Minions: the Duffy of Universal Studios Japan

Minion Park is the newest addition to Universal Studios Japan in Osaka, a moderately elaborate mini-land anchored around Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, a 3D ride through Gru’s lab, which replaced Back to the Future: the Ride. In this post, we’ll share some info and thoughts about Minion Park.

When Universal Studios Japan announced that Despicable Me Minion Mayhem would be replacing Back to the Future: the Ride, I was disappointed. Although I think Back to the Future had a good run and was due for a replacement, cloning a middling simulator that does nothing new and isn’t remotely groundbreaking was not my first idea. As one of the most popular theme parks in the world, I felt Universal Studios Japan deserved something better–something original.

Frankly, I wouldn’t be writing this post if Despicable Me Minion Mayhem were the only “big” addition to Universal Studios Japan via Minion Park. We didn’t write anything about the Flying Dinosaur in Jurassic Park, despite that being the most thrilling roller coaster I’ve ever experienced and an original ride. Rather, what’s fascinating about Minion Park is how it brings character to the table…

Rather than totally blowing off Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, I should at least mention that it is incredibly popular. While we do not recommend doing Express Pass at USJ, as you can read in our Universal Studios Japan Strategy Guide & Tips, we do recommend it being the first attraction you do upon entering the park.

If you’re not super into the Despicable Me movies and you arrive later in the morning, you might even considering skipping Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. I know that I wouldn’t wait more than 30 minutes for it, but that’s just me. It’s an okay attraction, but I think it’s overrated.

Then there are the many snack stands and gift shops in and around the “Minion Marketplace.” As you can see from the map above, there’s a lot of stuff in Minion Park’s relatively compact footprint.

Here are some of the Minion food items available:

The run-away snack hit is the banana-caramel popcorn at Pop-A-Nana, where you can buy a refillable King Bob bucket.

Throughout the day, the popcorn line was long, averaging around a 15 minute wait. I’d hazard a guess that it’s much longer on weekends, but that sweet banana-caramel smell wafts across the wharf and beckons guests from all over the park.

Happiness Cafe serves a Minion Burger, which is available with access to their “drink bar” for soda or coffee. The burger itself was surprisingly good (by Japanese burger standards).

I could never figure out whether this self-service beverage station offered free refills…when I asked a Universal Team Member, they said yes, but I’m not sure they understood the question. No one stopped me from refilling our drinks, but I didn’t see any other guests getting refills. Your mileage may vary.

This cake is also from Happiness Cafe, and was fantastic.

Light and airy; unsurprisingly, it tastes like bananas.

This ice cream sandwich was also delicious.

The exterior was like a cross between a cookie and a macaron in terms of texture and consistency; definitely recommended.

These were pretty forgettable. They were mostly outer shell, with only a little filling.

The dipping sauce almost saved them, but with so many better snacks in Minion Park, we’d definitely recommend skipping these.

The mochi above were really disappointing. Not much flavor at all. Also pictured is the Minion steamed pork buns (both items are sold at Happy Kitchen).

These were fine–heavy on the bun and light on the pork.

What really struck me about the Minion presence at Universal Studios Japan is how there was Minions stuff everywhere. As we waited outside the turnstiles, it seemed like every other kid waiting in line had a Minions novelty hat, refillable popcorn bucket, or both. Adults wore Minions scarves, goggles, headbands, and graphic shirts. It felt like it was Halloween (it wasn’t), and Minions were the hot costume of the year (they weren’t).

This was all outside the park, meaning these were return guests who brought their Minions items back with them. Inside, the Minions-centric gift shops were slammed, and all over there were guests taking selfies in Minions attire with their Minions-themed snacks. The enthusiasm for Minions was contagious.

The prevalence of all things ‘Minions’ really felt similar to Duffy at Tokyo DisneySea. For those unfamiliar, Duffy is Mickey Mouse’s bear come to life, and sets sail on various journeys around the world. After flopping in the United States, Duffy has proven so popular in Japan–and has become such a merchandising powerhouse–that a slew of “friends” have been created for Duffy. If this piques your curiosity, I have a long and rambling post about it: “The Duffy Phenomenon at Tokyo DisneySea.”

Duffy is an original character created for Disney’s theme parks, whereas the Minions are intellectual property that have stand-alone appeal and a built-in fanbase. Given that difference, it might seem like the two aren’t really comparable. Popular movie characters tend to beget merchandise sales in theme parks. I wouldn’t be writing an article expressing surprise that owl merchandise flies off the shelves in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Japan.

The popularity of the Minions feels different. At least, slightly different. In and around Minion Park, Universal Studios Japan has taken an existing concept and built upon it, giving it something of a life of its own. Not to the extent that Minion Park is the paragon of themed design, but that it’s infused with a goofy, oddly lived-in quality.

As you’re in this area of the park, it’s easy to buy into the whole shebang. The area and its characters have an effusive charm, and you feel an odd compulsion to be a part of it all. It’s really difficult to articulate the disarming allure of Minion Park, especially because I don’t think the little area is all that strong thematically.

Nevertheless, Minions holds its own appeal that is not predicated upon the built-in draw of the Minions as film characters. (I’m not a fan of the movies, and the area ‘hooked’ me.)

Perhaps I’m over-analyzing the draw of the Minions and it could be boiled down to “they’re kawaii and mischievous.” It’s also possible that I’m underestimating the popularity of the Minions in Japan, and they are a cultural zeitgeist unbeknownst to me.

In any case, it’s nice to see Universal Studios Japan developing more character. Minions wouldn’t have been my first or even 101st choice for that, but it works. A lot of the park is simply copy and pasted from Florida, and it could use more originality (beyond the annual Cool Japan event) to make it uniquely its own thing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the future brings an increased Minion presence at Universal Studios Japan. Whether that means a takeover of the Wharf, new parade, development into a backstage expansion pad, or even new park-specific Minion characters, none of it would surprise me. Universal Studios Japan already has a very bright future with its Nintendo Land, and I hope the park continues to evolve in its own ways.

If you’re visiting Osaka and thinking about doing a day at USJ, be sure to read our comprehensive Universal Studios Japan Planning Guide. USJ is one of the busiest theme parks in the world, and we offer tips & tricks for beating the crowds, and saving time & money!

Your Thoughts

If you’ve visited Universal Studios Japan since Minion Park opened, what did you think of the experience? Did you notice a large number of guests wearing Minions merchandise and buying the foods? Any additional Minions tips to add? Does Universal Studios Japan interest you? Hearing your feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!

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3 replies
  1. Will
    Will says:

    Minion Wharf, Universal Studios Japan’s answer to Pixar Pier!

    At any rate, it looks like Universal Japan has undergone a fair number of changes since 2010! Are the crowds really as crazy now as they sound from your reports and others? It didn’t seem so bad back then, though it certainly wasn’t empty when I visited. It gives me pause when I think about planning a trip back, to be honest.

    But really, I just want them to clone Space Fantasy. I know they’ll never do it, but I can dream!

    Reply
    • Tom Bricker
      Tom Bricker says:

      “Are the crowds really as crazy now as they sound from your reports and others?”

      Weekend and holiday crowds are the thing of nightmares. We only go off-season weekdays now, and crowds actually aren’t too bad. That coupled with an abundance of Single Rider lines makes USJ a really fun place to visit. Things would definitely be different if we went on a weekend and didn’t use Single Rider.

      Reply

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