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Universal Studios Japan (USJ) ranked fifth among the top 25 amusement parks across the globe.
So, it’s clear that this park is crowded year-round.
This can get especially crazy during Japan’s peak season.
If not planned ahead, you will be like these guys…
This traveler should have checked Universal Studios Japan refurbishments schedule before booking.
Or, this one probably didn’t have an Express and went on a Japanese holiday.
So, the question is:
How do you get the most out of your USJ park visit?
Table of Contents
How to Time Your Universal Studios Japan Visit
Visiting Universal Studios Japan is much like visiting Tokyo Disney Resorts.
Their popularity requires perfecting the art of timing.
This is the huge reason why you should consider a trip to Universal Studios Japan a major purchase.
Planned appropriately, you will fully experience the park’s attractions and make the most out of your money.
You can use two options (2) when timing your visit.
Option 1: Use the USJ Crowd Prediction Calendar.
This crowd prediction calendar updates the crowd forecast of the park for the current month.
If you are visiting several months in advance, you will not get an accurate forecast.
Note: The crowd calendar is only an approximation.
Below the calendar, you will see the crowd congestion color coding.
And Here’s Exactly What The Color Codes Mean
- Blue – Almost empty
- Green – Lightest crowds
- Yellow – Light crowds
- Orange – Moderate crowds
- Red – Heavy crowds
- Maroon – Heaviest crowds
- Black – Don’t bother going
Need I say more?
Option 2: Simply Avoid Weekends, Japanese School Breaks, and Non-Working Holidays.
Japanese schools have three (3) school breaks:
- Winter Break – Starts from last week of December to 1st week of January.
- Spring Break – Starts from last week of March to 1st week of April.
- Summer Break – Starts from last week of July till the end of August.
While these are the non-working holiday dates that you should avoid for 2019 below (see photo):
The ultimate strategy here is to concentrate on visiting the park on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays of the following months:
- Mid-April to late June
- November to January
November to January are the least congested and the best months to visit in my opinion.
Just be sure to bundle up because the weather can get very cold at night.
It is also worth mentioning the park’s attraction refurbishments schedule which you can find here at the very bottom of the page.
Move your date should your favorite attraction be closed.
Types of Universal Studios Japan Tickets (Paid and Free)
First-time visitors are often confused by different types of tickets released by Universal Studios Japan. This section is here to help.
There are many ways to buy the Studio Pass and Express Pass tickets both offline and online, which is why I have created a dedicated blog post about it.
In the meantime, get acquainted with the different types of tickets released by Universal Studios Japan and know what they’re for.
1. Studio Pass (7,400 yen)
This is the general admission ticket that you get to enter the park.
There are 3 types of Studio Passes to choose from:
- 1-Day Studio Pass
- 1.5-Day Studio Pass – Enter the USJ park after 3:00 p.m. on day 1 and use it on the following day all day.*
- 2-Day Studio Pass
Note: USJ tickets are nonrefundable, no matter where you buy them.
In addition, USJ does not issue re-entry tickets or stamps, so there’s no going back once you leave the park. So, make sure you’re going to be able to use them.
Where to Buy Studio Pass Tickets?
Personally, I got my Studio Pass ticket from Voyagin. My booking experience with their website was seamless. I received my Studio Pass E-ticket in my email in less than 5 minutes. I highly recommend getting your USJ Studio Pass ticket from them.
1. Lawson or park’s entrance gates (Not Recommended). Why? Read my article here.
2. Official USJ Travel Agency Partners (Recommended). For visitors overseas, I highly recommend booking your tickets online through official travel partners of USJ such as Klook and Voyagin. You will get a flexible ticket that is valid for use within 3-6 months from the date of your purchase.
And don’t be like these guys..
2. Universal Express™ Pass Tickets (starts at 5,400 yen)
The Universal Express Pass is a separate park ticket that allows you to skip the long lines to ride the popular attractions inside the USJ Park.
You can choose from three (3) types of Express Passes:
- Express Pass 7 – Good for 7 rides
- Express Pass 4 – Good for 4 rides
- Express Pass 3 – Good for 3 rides
Why You Should Buy an Express Pass?
1. Skip lines. It’s ranked 5th among the most popular amusement park in the world. Saying that this park gets absolutely crazy during peak season is not an exaggeration. Attractions like The Forbidden Journey 4K3D Ride, The Flying Dinosaur, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man 4K3D ride by far have the longest waiting times, between 3 and 5 hours on average. And Express Pass will allow you to skip those lines.
2. Save time. If you are going to ride those attractions without an Express Pass, over 3/4 of your day would just be spent waiting in lines. And you won’t be able to explore the rest of the park that much. Booo!
If there is one reason you wouldn’t want to get a pass, it would be the price, which, for a family of 3 or more, can really add up. However, if you weigh the pros and cons, the price is worth it because you won’t have to wait for hours just to experience those 5-minute rides.
If you are visiting during weekends, peak seasons, or Japanese holiday, Express Pass is pretty much a requirement . Lines to top attractions during these days are massively long.
Check out: Universal Express Pass Tickets Price Comparison.
Why Book Your Express Pass in Advance?
Universal Studios Japan releases a limited number of Express Pass tickets per day and tickets sell out quickly.
You cannot simply walk-in on the day of your visit and expect to get the Express Pass ticket at the entrance.
To use your Express Pass, simply look for the “Express Pass Lane” in every attraction.
Check out: Universal Express Pass Tickets Price Comparison.
Is Express Pass Similar to Disney’s FASTPASS?
Express Pass is different from Disney’s FASTPASS. FASTPASS is free and gives you a specific time to ride an attraction, Express Pass allows you to skip lines.
Is Express Pass Unlimited Rides?
The Express Pass will not give you ‘unlimited’ rides. For example, if you’ve already used your Express Pass on The Forbidden Journey Ride, you cannot go to the Express Pass Lane of Forbidden Journey again. You will need to line up in the regular lane that usually has 2-4 hours waiting time if you wish to ride it again.
If you want an Express Pass with Unlimited Rides, consider getting the Royal Pass Ticket which is 24,100 – 36,700 yen (212 – 324 USD) per adult. The price varies depending on the date and can only be bought from the mentioned online travel agencies.
3. Timed Entry (Free)
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is the most popular attraction at USJ.
And because it gets very crowded, USJ came up with a procedure to control the crowd by making the entry of visitor’s time-designated.
This means that visitors need Timed Entry tickets to enter the Wizarding World attraction.
Timed Entry Tickets are free, and without one, you cannot enter the Wizarding World.
There are two ways to get Timed Entry Tickets:
1. From the Timed-Entry Ticket Booth. Located at the Central Park (refer to your map). To get a Timed-Entry ticket, simply scan the barcode of your admission ticket on the Timed-Entry ticket machine and select the time you desire to enter the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
2. By Buying an Express Pass Ticket. When you purchase an Express Pass, a Timed-Entry to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is included on your ticket.
Is There a Limit on How Long You Can Stay Inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter?
There is no limit on how long you can stay inside The Wizarding World. You can stay inside The Wizarding World for as long as you want! However, once you leave, you need to get another Timed-Entry Ticket.
4. VIP Wristbands (3,000 yen)
USJ Park opens between 8:30 and 9:00 A.M. However, if you have a VIP wristband, it will give you the privilege of entering the park 15 minutes before it opens.
With the VIP Wristbands, you can enter the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter even without a Timed-Entry Ticket and without waiting in line since the entrances are not manned with staff this early.
To buy the VIP Wristbands, you either go to Abeno Harukas 300 Observatory the day before your park visit, or buy it online through Voyagin.
The Simple Strategy to Riding the Universal Studios Japan Attractions
This is the last section of this guide, and is ultimately optional. The park is large and there is a lot to see and do.
Getting the most out of your time means coming up with a plan-of-action for what order to see and do things.
This is especially important because, if you arrive to the park at the opening time, as everyone literally sprints to their favorite rides in order to beat the long lines. And this can throw your plans into chaos and you into a panic.
There are two possible scenarios when planning your USJ touring route: (1) If you have an Express Pass and (2) if you don’t have an Express Pass.
1. If you have an Express Pass.
Touring around USJ with an Express Pass gives you the freedom to ride all your top attractions included on your pass.
I highly suggest riding them all consecutively as soon as you enter the gate.
Skipping the long lines with the pass at the start of your day will give you a whole lot of time. And after, you can explore the USJ Park at your own pace while relaxing.
If this just a stop while you visit Japan, then chances are you will only be visiting USJ once.
Take this time to see the sights and try riding any remaining attractions which tickle your fancy.
Explore the entire Park in clockwise, counterclockwise, or in a zigzag direction.
Maybe even get a second Timed Entry ticket to go inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter again.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter Gallery
2. If you don’t have an Express Pass.
Some people prefer not getting an Express Pass because, according to them, they will only visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Or simply don’t have a budget for it.
However, in my experience, you will be missing a whole lot of fun if you don’t have an Express Pass, especially when visiting during peak seasons.
That’s just my opinion though, and it’s ultimately up to you.
At any rate, going to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and riding the blockbuster Forbidden Journey Ride is still possible without an Express Pass.
It’s just going to be really challenging.
You should also realize that with this option there’s a high probability you’ll need to prioritize attractions since you’ll likely be encountering lines in excess of 2-3 hours each.
So, you’ll probably only get a chance to ride 2 or 3 of them.
Do note that Timed Entry tickets can also run out within the day. And during very crowded days, only one Timed-Entry Ticket is allowed per person for the entire day.PRO TIP: Consider Getting the 1.5-Day Studio Pass. If Express Pass is just too expensive for you, the 1.5-Day Studio Pass is the next best option. Enter the park at 3 p.m., get the Timed-Entry Ticket (hopefully there are timed-entry tickets left. Then, line up for the Forbidden Journey Ride inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
On your second day, you are free to ride any attractions you feel like. But warning again, without an Express Pass, you are going to spend so much time waiting and waiting in line.
What Are the Top Attractions and Rides?
Universal Studio Japan has only 9 areas, therefore, it is very easy to get around.
These areas are:
- New York
- Minion Park
- San Francisco
- Jurassic Park
- Amity Village
- The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Universal Wonderland
And here are my top attraction rides in order of my own preference:
- The Forbidden Journey Ride – The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman 4K3D Ride – in New York
- The Flying Dinosaur – in the Jurassic Park
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem – in Minion Park
In the end, it’s really up to you on how you want to prioritize your time within the park and ride your attraction preference, but hopefully, this helps you to better prioritize your time at the park.
Personally, aside from the The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I hang out pretty much all my time in New York, San Francisco, Hollywood, and Amity Village.
If you have small children, you will pretty much spend most of your time in either The Wizarding World, Minion Park, or Universal Wonderland.
How to Get to Universal Studios Japan (The Easiest Way)
If you’ve traveled to Tokyo, then you’ve seen how easy and convenient their train system can be.
But in Osaka and Kyoto, the train system is a bit more confusing.
Relying on train apps like Hyperdia or Google Maps is not the best solution at certain times.
So, if you don’t have WiFi to navigate, you may refer to these methods to get to Universal Studios Japan (USJ) from the major stations of the area.
By train, your destination will be Universal City Station, and from there it’s an about a 5-minute walk to the park.
From Osaka Station: Board the Osaka Loop Line (inner loop/counter-clockwise) towards Sakurajima for 5 stops to Universal City Station. Note that there will be a short stop at Nishikujo Station where this train will switch to the JR Sakurajima Line (also known as JR Yumesaki Line); remain on-board. This option costs 180 yen and takes about 12 minutes. Alternatively, board Osaka Loop Line (inner loop/counter-clockwise) for Nara or Kamo and stop at Nishikujo Station. From Nishikujo Station, transfer to JR Sakurajima Line towards Sakurajima 2 stops to Universal City Station.
From JR Namba Station: This one has a couple of transfers. First, board the JR Yamatoji Line and ride 1 stop to Shinimamiya Station. Next, take the Osaka Loop Line (outer loop/clockwise) to Nishikujo Station. Finally, take the JR Sakurajima Line towards Sakurajima 2 stops to Universal City Station. This option costs 180 yen and should take about 28 minutes.
From Kyoto Station: Take the JR Special Rapid Service for Banshuanko or Himeji and ride 3 stops to Osaka Station, then transfer to the Osaka Loop Line (inner loop/counter-clockwise) for to Universal City. Expect the ride to take about 48-minutes and cost 800 yen.
From Kansai-International: There are a few options for trains here, but the simplest (least amount of transfers) is to take the Kansai Airport Line towards Kyobashi and ride to Nishikujo Station. Then transfer to the JR Sakurajima Line to Universal City (2 stops). This option will have you remain on-board at both Hineno and Tennoji Stations while the train switches lines. The ride should take about 1 hour and 17-minutes and cost 1190 yen.
The advantage of a bus here is that you have a guaranteed seat, which is helpful when your travel time will be over an hour.
From Kansai-International: Take the Kansai-Airport Limousine Bus from Kansai Airport Bus Stop No.1. This bus is a direct trip to Universal Studios Japan with 4 stops, and should take about 1.5 hours, and cost 1550 yen.
From Itami Airport Osaka: Take the Airport Limousine, or Hanshin Bus, or Kintetsu Bus from Itami Airport Bus Stop No.1. This bus is also a direct trip to Universal Studios Japan and cost 930 yen.PRO TIP: Consider Getting A USJ Package.
JTB offers a cut-price Universal Studio Japan Package for visitors from Tokyo.
The package includes a roundtrip bullet train from Tokyo, stay at a hotel of your choice, and a Studio Pass Admission ticket to the park.
The price is a huge bargain, over 20% off. And the best package deal if you want to save time and money planning the trip.
If you don’t know JTB, they are the largest travel agency in Japan and they have several branches throughout the world.
And JAPANiCAN is their official booking website for non-Japanese customers.
Best Hotels or Areas to Stay
If you are only visiting Osaka for Universal Studios Japan, then it goes without saying that getting a hotel nearer to the park will save you time and hassle.
I recommend staying in the following areas:
- Around the Park
- Near Nishikujo Station
1. Around the Park
Universal Studios Japan has partnered with over 20 hotels all over Osaka and Kobe so that guests can fully enjoy the park and its surrounding tourist attractions.
The Park Front Hotel. Sitting right at the entrance of the park, The Park Front Hotel is the official and the closest hotel you can get. It features American-style entertainment and offers spacious Time Machine-themed guest rooms.
The rooms with the highest demand are the Superior Rooms, since these give you a glimpse of the city skyline. However, if you are on a budget, savvy visitors can also enjoy Standard Rooms with a partial park view.
Families with small children can choose access to the hotel’s baby and child-friendly facilities and rental items for a more convenient stay.
The Singulari Hotel & Skyspa. This is another official Universal Studios Japan hotel located at the exit of Universal City Station; about a 5-minute walk to the park entrance.
From the name itself, it boasts an open-air bath for all its guests.
Here, you can expect sparkling clean and comfortable rooms because The Singulari Hotel & Sky Spa just opened in August 2017.
Below are other Official Universal Studios Japan Hotels that sit right at the entrance of the park:
- Hotel Kintetsu Universal City
- Hotel Keihan Universal City
- Hotel Keihan Universal Tower
- Hotel Universal Port
- Hotel Universal Port Vita
2. Near Nishikujo Station
From my experience, Nishikujo Station is a great base not just when visiting Universal Studios Japan but when visiting and sightseeing Osaka.
Aside from budget-friendly hotels situated around the station, it’s only 2 stops to Universal City Station via the JR Sakurajima Line (covered by JR Pass if you have one).
So you will get to maximize your time and save your wallet at the same time.
Hotels near Nishikujo Station
Hostel Jin. This hostel is the top choice among budget travelers. Rated as having a very comfortable beds and very clean rooms. If you are a family, consider getting the private room with your own bath and toilet.
Business Hotel Urbanty. Business hotels are always an automatic choice for groups or family travelers on a budget in Japan. Located near Nishikujo Station, this hotel is rated as having very clean rooms and very friendly staff.
Briller Universal Japon. This hotel is in a great location; just a 3-minute walk from Nishikujo Station. All rooms are Western style, meaning you get your own private bathroom and toilet.
And a lot more…
Simply key-in “Nishikujo Station” on the search bar and choose from the many hotels around it.
Airbnb is also a great option, but make sure to search using the “map” instead of search results.AIRBNB BONUS CREDIT: If you are not registered on Airbnb yet, you should sign-up using my link. That way, you’ll get 33 USD Airbnb travel credit which you can use on your first stay.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Which Express Pass should I buy?
It depends on your budget and your preference.
Ask yourself this:
What are the attractions you would like to ride?
Personally, I got the Express Pass 4 Standard because I was only interested in The Forbidden Journey Ride and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-man 4K3D Ride.
However, if you’re simply visiting USJ for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I don’t think getting an Express Pass is necessary in your case but then again, you might be missing a lot of fun.
Check out: Universal Express Pass Tickets Price Comparison.
2. Should I get an Express Pass or VIP Wristbands, or both?
If you are visiting USJ during the weekends or the holidays, then getting an Express Pass is a highly suggested otherwise you won’t be able to ride as many attractions due to the hours of wait you will be spending lining up for your turn.
Get the VIP wristband if you can wake up very early and interested in entering the Wizarding World of Harry Potter without the crowds.
3. The Express Pass is sold out! What should I do?
I am sorry if Express Passes are no longer available on the dates you have chosen because they really do get sold out!
You are left with no other option but to move your travel dates or just enter the park without it.
4. Can I bring food inside?
Technically, bringing your own food inside the park is not allowed.
However, due to long lines at the entrance gates, the staff may no longer be checking on every bag. Just make sure to put your food on the very bottom of your bag just in case the staff checks on you.
5. What are your recommended attractions?
Other than The Forbidden Journey Ride and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man Ride, there are lots of other great rides. I, personally, liked the Amity Ville’s Jaws and the Jurassic Park rides.
Take note that when you take a ride, you will see signboards that warn people with heart problems and abnormal blood pressure.
These rides are extreme and you should definitely heed the warnings before going. If you like extreme rides, try The Flying Dinosaur, Flight of the Hippogriff, and Backdrop.
6. Is USJ stroller-friendly? Baby-friendly?
Like other amusement parks, Universal Studios Japan is a stroller-friendly and family-friendly place. You can even rent a baby stroller for a day for 1,000 yen.
For families with babies and small children, you are going to enjoy Universal Wonderland. This attraction has Family Service facilities where you can feed or breastfeed your babies privately.
There are only two (2) Family Service facilities in USJ. One that is near the entrance gates, and the second one, is inside the Universal Wonderland attraction.
Families with babies or small children also benefit from the “Child Switch System.”
The Japanese translation is a bit confusing, however, this only means that the system allows parents or guardians with children too small for certain rides to “swap out” (one rides while the other waits, then swaps) without having to wait in line twice.
Most ride attractions utilize the Child Switch System. There is also Pram parking at each attraction so, you are free to park your strollers.
Don’t worry, Japan is ridiculously safe. You have a better chance of forgetting your stroller than someone actually stealing anything from it.
In fact, if you did forget your stroller, someone would most likely return it to you at some point.
7. How much time did you spend exploring USJ? How big is it?
I did a one roundabout exploration of the entire park and it only took me about 25 minutes.
I was actually surprised to find out that USJ is 3x smaller than Tokyo Disneyland since they pack so much into each attraction.
8. Any special type of discounted passes or afternoon passes?
Japanese amusement parks almost always have afternoon discount passes. With USJ, the afternoon pass is called the Twilight Pass.
Depending on the day, you can get the Twilight Pass for 1,300 – 1,500 yen less than the 1-day Studio Pass.
This is a deal if you just want a glimpse of Universal Studios Japan at night (which is very nice by the way).
This type of pass is not advertised on either the Japanese or English USJ websites.
So to get this, you just have to be at the ticket booth of the park by 3 p.m. The Twilight Pass is a great option if you are visiting during the off-season or less congested months.
Take note, however, that if you have the Twilight Pass, you cannot use an Express Pass. So, if you still want to go to Wizarding World with the Twilight Pass, just hurry to the Central Park to get your Timed Entry Tickets (hopefully there are still some left) to ride the Forbidden Journey.
Just so you know, Timed Entry also gets run out.
9. It’s my birthday! Can I have a birthday discount?
Yes. Just register on the website of USJ and make sure to register your entire family with their birthdates.
The birthday discount is 500 yen less than the regular ticket, which is applicable to the entire family.
You can buy the Birthday Discount Ticket online, but again, the downside is, the website is all in the Japanese language.
The ticket is valid from the first day of your birthday month, until the end of the next month.
Example, if your birthday is September 22, then your USJ ticket is valid from September 1 – October 30, and your whole family will get a discount as well.
If you need further help, I suggest asking for help from a Japanese friend.
10. How are restaurants inside?
I personally don’t like eating at restaurants inside amusement parks.
They tend to be very expensive and are usually pretty bland.
However, the usual park food like churros, turkey legs, and caramel popcorn are all very good.
Be warned if the food looks cute or Instagrammable, it probably tastes terrible.
I was fooled by many cute looking foods offered in the park (this rule can often be applied to most food actually).
Even the butterbeer from the Wizarding World didn’t taste any special.
If I were to visit USJ again, I would probably bring onigiri or a bento and eat them at the benches scattered around the park, and just save money for a turkey leg and churros.
I’ve seen many Japanese visitors do this!
Restaurants outside USJ, located in the Universal CityWalk are worth trying.
But remember, unlike most American amusement parks, there’s no going back in once you leave the park.
11. What if it’s raining during my visit?
Raincoats are definitely more preferable than umbrellas if you are visiting during rainy days.
There are also several attractions that have splash zones, like Jaws, The Jurassic Ride, and the Waterworld Show.
If you plan on taking those rides, buy a raincoat from 100 yen stores the day before your USJ visit.
The raincoat from the vending machines inside USJ is 400 yen which can be expensive for the entire family.
Final Verdict and Recommendations
USJ park was a lot of fun during my visit. It’s worth mentioning here that I was all by myself when I first visited, but still had a lot of fun.
I managed to experience pretty much all of the attractions I was interested in, and still have time to take in the spectacular views of the park.
This is because I visited during the least crowded season, around the first week of January, and had both a VIP wristband and Express Pass. I also managed to get a second Timed Entry Ticket to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But that was because it was less crowded.
I was able to finish all the attraction rides on my Express Pass tickets within just an hour of entering the park.
By 5 p.m., I noticed the crowd had thinned down and I was able to go on more rides not included in my Express Pass.
The lines had shortened to 15 to 30-minute waits. I left the park at 7 p.m. and hung around the Universal CityWalk before heading to the train station.
Please leave your comments below if you have any questions.
References and Sources Universal Studios Japan (n.d.) in Wikipedia. Retrieved December 10, 2018 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Studios_Japan
 Travel Agencies (n.d.) in Universal Studios Japan Official. Retrieved December 10, 2018 from https://www.usj.co.jp/e/travel/