This 2021 guide to Universal Studios Japan offers tips & tricks for visiting Osaka’s popular theme park, which is home to Super Nintendo World, Harry Potter, Jaws, and more! This includes USJ strategy & info about where to eat, what to do, how to avoid crowds, minimize wait times, and more! (Updated March 15, 2021.)
After its temporary closure this spring, Universal Studios Japan is now open to all guests. However, there are temporary health and safety protocol, which should be familiar to anyone who has visited pretty much any point of interest recently. Guests are required to wear a mask at all times in the park, have their temperature taken at the entrance gate, wash and disinfect their hands frequently during their visit, avoid crowding, and maintain physical distance between themselves and others.
Additionally, USJ is operating at a reduced capacity to allow for social distancing, which means that park admission may be limited at times. In the event that the park reaches capacity, new guests will not be admitted and ticket sales will be suspended. This will be announced on the official Universal Studios Japan website, social media accounts, and at major train stations in Osaka. Thus far, this has not been an issue, but as attendance picks up and the holiday season starts, that could change…
Of course, given that this guide is in English and Japan currently has an entry ban in place for 152 countries, you’re most likely planning ahead to late 2021 or even 2022 at this point. For starters, if you’re curious when you might be able to visit Universal Studios Japan, see our When Will Japan Reopen for Travel? guide, which is updated as of March 2021.
For those of you planning 2021 trips to Japan, there’s good news. Universal Studios Japan has announced that Super Nintendo World will open on March 18, 2021. This comes after two delays, the second of which was due to a second State of Emergency in Japan. That has been lifted, and things are once again back on track. Before that, Super Nintendo World was first scheduled to open before the Tokyo Summer Olympics, and even with the one-year delay that’s still technically true!
Super Nintendo World has actually been operating in soft opening mode for the last few months. Super Nintendo World was designed as an intimate area–you literally enter through a green ‘warp pipe’ tunnel. That’s great for immersiveness, but obviously not ideal in this temporary time of physical distancing.
It’s also entirely by design, and not because Super Nintendo World is small scale or lacks ambition. To the contrary, it’s a blockbuster $580 million expansion of Universal Studios Japan. We’ll have much more info about strategy for Super Nintendo World later this year.
For now, the major details are that Super Nintendo World features two rides, one of which is Yoshi’s Adventure, a family-friendly attraction that allows guests to go on a journey with Yoshi. You’ll search for Captain Toad on a treasure hunt and use his map to find 3 mysterious eggs.
Super Nintendo World’s flagship attraction will be Mario Kart: Koopa’s Challenge, housed inside a recreation of Bowser’s Castle. This ride features iconic courses from the Mario Kart series brought to life with cutting-edge augmented reality technology, projection mapping, and fully dimensional environments.
No matter whether you’re planning a trip to Universal Japan in 2021 for the Tokyo Olympics, or sometime later, there’s one thing for which you should be prepared: crowds. In our experience, Universal Studios Japan is the busiest theme park on the planet, with heavy attendance and multi-hour wait times for many attractions on many days. This is only going to get worse once Super Nintendo World opens.
We’ve made several trips to Osaka, Japan over the last few years (consult our Osaka, Japan City Guide for recommendations beyond Universal), updating this guide regularly with our visits. One common thread throughout our visits has been the crowds. On busy days, we have seen posted wait times of 300 minutes for the Flying Dinosaur, Hollywood Dream, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that it’s possible to avoid crowds and long lines by choosing your day to visit strategically, arriving early in the morning, having an efficient touring plan, and following these handy tips. With our strategy, it’s not even necessary to purchase Express Pass (although that doesn’t hurt).
Wait times, congestion, and crowds are the obvious first issue to discuss when it comes to Universal Studios Japan, so let’s start there…
The single biggest piece of advice is to arrive early–you should be getting off of the train nearly an hour before park opening. Universal Studios Japan was under-built given the attendance numbers it sees, meaning that every popular attraction can see serious waits, even on weekdays. These wait times can make Tokyo Disneyland’s headliners look like relative walk-ons.
Because of this, you want to arrive early, with a plan of attack, and hit the attractions that will later have long waits first-thing. After you get the big attractions out of the way, you’ll have more time to explore the park, see shows, shop, and eat, but your first 2-3 hours in the park should be calculated and maximum efficiency.
No matter the day of your visit, you’re looking at peak wait times of at least 3 hours. One day I visited, both Forbidden Journey and Hollywood Dream Backdrop maxed out at 300 minutes. The above waits are early in the day, so you can see I’m not exaggerating the importance of efficiency and arriving early. Don’t even stop for bathroom breaks, just wet your pants like a real theme park badass.
Park Tickets & Express Pass
Alternatively, if wetting your pants doesn’t sound super-cool, you might want to purchase Express Pass. On the first day I visited, Universal Studios Japan was already sold out of Express Pass an hour before park opening. We’ve been back several times since, and have ended up getting Express Pass in order to save time on busy days.
With the strategy below, you can potentially accomplish a lot without Express Pass. However, this requires using the Single Rider line extensively. In recent visits to Universal Studios Japan, we’ve noticed that Single Rider lines, especially those for thrill rides, have elevated wait times. (For example, we’ve seen the Flying Dinosaur with a posted standby wait of 180 minutes and a single rider wait of 120 minutes.)
If you want Express Pass, the easiest way to purchase it is by adding it to your tickets when purchasing them. To my knowledge, the only way to purchase Universal Studios Japan tickets with Express Pass in advance is via Voyagin, which we recommend buying.
The reasons we recommend buying the Express Pass via Voyagin are two-fold. First, Express Pass will save you a lot of time waiting in line. You could easily save 3-5 hours in a single day with it. Second, Express Pass availability is limited, and we’ve been to Universal Studios Japan several times when it has sold out completely.
Because of this, we recommend purchasing Express Pass before you arrive at Universal Studios Japan, which is where Voyagin comes in. We used Voyagin for Universal Studios Japan’s Express Pass as well as other things in Japan, and have found them to offer reliable and friendly service.
There are several different versions of Express Pass available, each with different attractions offered on them. For maximum time-savings, purchase the Express Pass 4 that includes the Flying Dinosaur, Hollywood Dream – The Ride, and the XR Roller Coaster.
Unfortunately, outside of the ridiculously-priced “Royal Studio Pass,” none of the Express Pass 4 options cover all of the most popular attractions. If you’re willing to splurge, the Express Pass 7 that includes Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and/or Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem will also save you a ton of time.
In terms of purchasing in advance, Voyagin is the best option. There’s no easy way to purchase tickets directly on USJ’s English website. The other alternative is finding tickets at a Lawson’s convenience store kiosk once you arrive in Japan, but navigating the menus in Japanese is a challenge.
If you don’t want to purchase Universal Studios Japan park tickets via Voyagin for some reason but do want Express Pass, we’d recommend arriving to the park at least an hour before park opening so you have a chance at purchasing Express Pass before it sells out. Trains to and around Osaka can be very packed around the morning rush, so give yourself plenty of transit time.
While Express Pass sells out frequently, regular Universal Studios Japan park tickets also can sell out of tickets on busy days, so if you don’t purchase your tickets in advance of your trip, you still should show up an hour before parking opening to buy them if you’re going during the summer, on a weekend, or a national holiday.
Regular weekdays should not have any issues with tickets selling out so you can arrive closer to park opening. In that case, we’d still recommend getting to Universal Studios Japan at least 15-30 minutes before park opening. We’ve been a couple of times when the park opened its turnstiles ~10 minutes before official opening time.
When to Visit
Most of you probably have are reading this after already having booked a trip to Japan, and are trying to figure out when to slot Universal Studios Japan into your itinerary. For you, our strong recommendation is to visit on a non-holiday weekday. You should absolutely avoid weekends at Universal Studios Japan. Friday, Saturdays, and Sundays–particularly Saturdays, are insanely crowded.
If you have more flexibility in your schedule and are wondering which season is best, we tend to favor Halloween and Christmas, but that’s true pretty much with every theme park. In addition to better weather, there are seasonal events.
Our first visit to Universal Studios Japan was in October, which meant Halloween Horror Nights in the evening. Other special events occur throughout the year, including Cool Japan. For our most recent visit, we returned to USJ during the “Universal Wonder Christmas” celebration. You can read that in our Tips for Christmas at Universal Studios Japan post.
We’ll have a Christmas at Universal Studios Japan post very soon; I’ve already done a separate post on Universal Studios Japan’s Halloween Horror Nights, so I’m not going to be covering that or any other special events here. Just be aware that the park does special events, so you should consult their calendar before you visit to determine how to incorporate them into your day.
If you’re thinking of a spring or summer visit, you’ll normally experience Cool Japan. This features attraction overlays and entertainment for that includes Final Fantasy, Detective Conan, Monster Hunter, and Sailor Moon. We visited USJ for Cool Japan, and had a blast doing Final Fantasy XR, seeing the shows, and trying a ton of kawaii foods.
Where to Eat
Obviously, rides are the main draw at Universal Studios Japan, but before we get to that, a quick note on food. Not all of the restaurants at USJ are equal. Some are good, some are really, really bad.
We think food is incredibly important to the theme park experience, and have spent a lot of time “researching” the dining options at USJ to put together our Restaurant Reviews & Food Guide for Universal Studios Japan, which covers everything from full meals to snacks.
Speaking of which, cute snacks are a must when visiting Japan, and Universal does not disappoint in that regard. From Sailor Moon cakes to Minion burgers, there’s a diverse assortment of kawaii desserts and savory snacks at Universal Studios Japan. In fact, you could go the full day without having a meal and have a pretty stellar dining experience!
Single Rider Lines
The second biggest piece of advice is to take advantage of the Single Rider lines, which is a way to bypass excruciatingly long waits on the headliners. Here’s a full list of attractions at Universal Studios Japan that have Single Rider Lines:
- Space Fantasy – The Ride (or its XR coaster overlay)
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man – The Ride 4K3D
- Hollywood Dream
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- The Flying Dinosaur
- Jurassic Park – The Ride
That’s only 7 attractions, but the good news here is that these are 7 of the most popular attractions at Universal Studios Japan. Having this on the Flying Dinosaur–the newest and most popular attraction at Universal Studios Japan–is a pretty big deal and can save you a ton of time. (Note: Hollywood Dream used to have Single Rider on the Backdrop version of the attraction; it appears to have changed to the normal version. Your mileage may vary as to which has it when you visit.)
I don’t care how much you love your family and enjoy riding together, you need to use the Single Rider lines at USJ. This is an every-man-for-himself, kill-or-be-killed type of thing, and there’s no room for weakness like a sense of family togetherness. Okay, that’s a little harsh, but I’m only partially kidding.
By taking advantage of the Single Rider line on these attractions, you’re looking at saving 3-6 hours of time waiting in line over the course of the day. The Single Rider lines are not popular with Japanese families, meaning that even on some popular attractions with long waits, the Single Rider line will likely be a 20 minute or less wait. This is consistently true on JAWS, and we’ve bypassed a 2-hour wait by doing Single Rider.
Unfortunately, this is not as true with roller coasters and other attractions popular with Japanese teenagers, who are more willing to go solo to save some time. Rides like Hollywood Dream, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the Flying Dinosaur–basically anything that’s a thrill ride (and that’s over half of the attractions on the list).
Accordingly, you should still make an effort to arrive at park opening and do the thrill rides with Single Rider early in the day if you want to avoid longer waits. We’ve found that within the first hour of park opening, most Single Rider lines are under 30 minutes. Midday, you might see Single Rider waits of over an hour on thrill rides.
One other thing to know about the Single Rider lines at Universal Studios Japan is that they aren’t always open. This was the one curveball I encountered, as I faced a dilemma as I strolled up to JAWS to find the Single Rider line closed and a 120 minute wait. Being a huge fan of the old school Universal Studios attractions, I did it anyway.
Later in the evening, the Single Rider line was open and our group did it again with a <5 minute wait. I don’t regret waiting 2 hours to experience it (the queue has tons of details that weren’t in the Florida version), but obviously, I would’ve preferred to experience it with a 5 minute wait.
If you find yourself faced with a similar dilemma, just remember that the Single Rider line might be open later.
Attractions & Strategy
Assuming you’re using Single Rider lines, my recommended attraction order for a normal day at USJ is as follows if you want to maximize efficiency:
- Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem
- The Flying Dinosaur (via Single Rider)
- Hollywood Dream – The Ride Backdrop (via Single Rider)
- Space Fantasy – The Ride or XR Ride overlay (via Single Rider)
- Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man – The Ride 4K3D (via Single Rider)
- JAWS (via Single Rider)
- …and so on…
Note that if you’re attending for a seasonal event, you should strongly consider prioritizing those attractions. This is particularly true with whatever the particular “The Real” attraction (which is a live action role playing game, typically one that has you battling in groups against some sort of monster). Same goes if a XR coaster is running in place of Space Fantasy during your visit. Theater shows, stage shows, or parades during special events typically do not need to be prioritized to the same degree.
If you’re a Universal Studios regular in either Florida and California, you might prioritize differently. For example, you might care more about extinct US attractions or unique Japan attractions than clones that presently exist stateside.
In terms of extinct attractions, JAWS is unquestionably the main draw (Back to the Future – The Ride closed last year; if you see it listed on another site, that is now out of date).
JAWS is largely the same as the US version, with slight differences in the pre-show. and outside the building. Amity Village where JAWS is located is larger than its Florida predecessor, and the queue is significantly better (at least to my memory).
As for unique attractions, Space Fantasy is far and away the winner here. This is like Space Mountain meets Crush’s Coaster set in the middle of a kawaii anime adventure. It is distinctly Japanese, so it’s unlikely to ever be cloned stateside, which is a real shame, because the experience is both beautiful and exciting.
This is far and away my favorite attraction at USJ. Unfortunately, it has an XR Final Fantasy overlay for Cool Japan and has had other seasonal overlays, so it’s been a while since I’ve gotten to experience the normal version of the attraction. While the XR coaster is a really cool concept, I think it’s unfortunate that they added XR to a coaster that has cool physical sets and a great theme.
There are a few other unique attractions that are noteworthy. The first is Hollywood Dream – The Ride Backdrop, which isn’t really all that unique. This is Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rock-It in Florida, except with a slightly modified track and ride vehicles that face backwards. The backwards-facing coaster is pretty cool, but not enough to justify the insane waits it sees.
Along with the Flying Dinosaur, this is an attraction that tends to draw a long line even via Single Rider. Speaking of the Flying Dinosaur, it’s really popular, and also pretty intense. It had been a while since I had done a “serious” rollercoaster, and I could barely handle this. You’re strapped up in a prone position (so, with your body parallel to the ground), and the coaster swirls you all around. I’d say you’re spending more time upside down than right-side up!
Next is Minion Park, which is really just the area around Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem. This attraction and the mini-land are really popular. Minions in general are like the Duffy (Tokyo DisneySea) of Universal Studios Japan. I was astounded by how popular all things Minions are at USJ: food, merchandise, even popcorn buckets. This attraction gets a long wait, and the entire mini-land is incredibly crowded until the evening hours.
Next is “The Real [Escape Game].” The game here rotates by season, but always has an incredibly limited capacity. In ‘The Real’ you solve puzzles within the time limit and escape from a room while battling zombies/monsters/whatever. This is a really cool concept, but unless you speak Japanese, you might consider skipping this. If you want to do it anyway, you should run here first thing to get a return time, as this is the lowest-capacity attraction in USJ.
The other must-do is Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Even if you’ve seen it in Orlando or Hollywood, this Hogsmeade has a couple of unique draws. There’s a better lead up path into the land, and the sprawling Black Lake, which makes for a beautiful photo op in the evening hours.
Because of this, you should select a time around sunset for your ticketed Wizarding World entry. The Hogwarts Castle Walk-Through is also neat, and I was able to take my DSLR and tripod inside to take photos.
Beyond this, there’s a to do that is unique to Japan that doesn’t qualify as a headliner. The entirety of Universal Wonderland, including Hello Kitty Fashion Avenue is unique, and quite kawaii.
Walking through these areas, doing some of the kiddie rides, and going in the shops is a lot of fun. Likewise, shopping at the park is fun in general, as there is a lot of Japanese merchandise, and neat things to see.
Finally, the newest major addition to USJ is “Universal Spectacle Night Parade: Best of Hollywood,” featuring Transformers, Jurassic World, Harry Potter, and Minions has now debuted! This cutting edge parade features moving projection mapping along the entire parade route–a state of the art technology developed by USJ–and much more. Until Super Nintendo World opens, this is the hot new draw to Universal Studios Japan.
That’s it for now! By following our tips for the attractions that see high wait times, you can knock out the headliners early and spend more time exploring. Even going on a busy weekend day with Halloween Horror Nights in the evening, I was able to do every attraction that I wanted to do (some more than once) and wander around taking photos for quite a while during our first visit. Without a solid plan of attack and a willingness to use Single Rider, I would’ve accomplished 3-4 attractions the entire day. On subsequent trips, we’ve planned better and done even more. Hopefully these tips help you plan a better visit to Universal Studios Japan. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments below!
If you’re planning a visit to the Japan that includes Osaka and/or Kyoto, please check out my other posts about Japan. You’ll also want to consult our Osaka, Japan City Guide to determine everything you should see and do while there.
Have any additional questions about Universal Studios Japan? Are you planning a visit in Spring 2021 (or thereafter) to experience Super Nintendo World? If you’ve visited, what did you like and dislike about USJ? How do you think it compares to Tokyo Disney Resort if you’ve visited both? Any additional tips to add? Does Universal Studios Japan interest you? Would you like to see more posts on it? Please share your thoughts in the comments!