After several months of planning, a small group of friends from the sharehouse I live in decided to tackle the great Universal Studios Japan in Osaka.
There are 3 main ways to get to Osaka from Tokyo. Chen, Sao and I flew in early in the morning while Brandon elected to take the night bus. The method you should take really depends on just what type of person you are. Cost aside, remember that flying means you have to wake up early and get to the airport. The Shinkansen is the same in many regards. I would say pick the mode of transportation based on what vehicle you can sleep on.
- Option 1: Night bus
- Cost: 1500 yen – 3000 yen
- Time: 6-7 hours
- I’ve never personally taken it so I don’t have any real feedback. But my friend said had a good night sleep. He also got to USJ earlier than the rest of us, so he had time to get McDonalds and enjoy his morning a little bit.
- Option 2: Fly there
- Cost: 7000 yen – 11,000 yen
- Time: 1h flight time
- Door to door really depends on where you live. We took the airport bus from shakujii koen which was another 1300 yen. Bus left at 4:30 am and got to the airport just before 6:00am, giving us plenty of time to get through security and get to our gate for our 7:00am flight. We took ANA airlines and flight prices vary, but I’ve seen them for as cheap as 7000 yen 1 way.
- At Osaka airport, there is a bus that takes you directly to USJ. It costs 930 yen and takes about 45 min (for us almost an hour because of traffic). We go to USJ around 9:30a.m.
- My total door to door cost: 13,230 yen
- Option 3: Take the Shinkansen (Bullet Train)
- Cost: 13620 yen for an unreserved ticket, 14540 for reserved
- Time: 2.5hr on the train between Tokyo – Osaka
- We took the Shinkansen back. Fun fact (and I didn’t know this before) after you get off at Tokyo station, the Shinkansen is valid from 1 trip in the Tokyo area. So we used the ticket to get from Tokyo station to Ikebukuro.
This part of the universe is unnecessarily complicated. I’m not sure about USJ Singapore, but the ones in LA / Orlando are very simple. There is a base ticket price, which gets you into the park. Then there is an Express pass, which is X dollars more ($79.99 the last time I went), which allows you to line up at the “Express Pass lane” on each ride, and you go on the ride as many times as you’d like. This system is simple, and easy to understand.
Now enter USJ, which is complicated and has a matrix of possibilities. Before I explain the madness, let me just tell you what to do.
- Go on the USJ website and figure out which of the top attractions (there’s only 3) you 100% want to go on.
- Buy the USJ entrance ticket
- Buy the USJ 7 Express Pass FOR THE RIDE you want
- For example, say you really want to do the Flying Dinosaur ride, you must buy the USJ 7 Express Pass – Flying Dinosaur.
Many blogs / vlogs will give you some ultimate plan for optimizing your day at USJ. The truth is, if you’re a local, it’s probably worth investing time to plan your day to get the most bang for your buck. Or if you’re a student on a tight budget, then definitely just get there early and do some homework. Otherwise, just blow the money on the express pass. Yes, it’s expensive at 12,000 yen for the express pass alone. But queue times for the big rides can go between 2-3 hours. So if you’re going to Osaka just for USJ, then time is money. Don’t look back, get the express pass.
Now let me explain the USJ madness.
- Use Klook
- This 3rd party ticket service which usually offers cheaper tickets for many different tourist attractions around the world is great. In the USJ case, I recommend Klook just for the sake of the UI. Otherwise you have to figure out the madness on the website and then go to the convenient store to get it.
- Base Ticket
- The ticket allows you to enter USJ and use the normal lines costs different depending on what day of the year you go. Weekends and holidays cost more. Enter the date in the Klook app and it’ll just tell you the price. We went on a friday, and it cost us 8400 yen.
- Express Pass 4 vs 7
- There are 2 tiers of express pass tickets. The 4 allows you to pick from a preset list of 4 rides, while the 7 allows for 7 rides. Regardless of which one you pick, you can only use the express ONCE on the ride you ride of your choice.
- So for example, say you buy the express pass 7 – the flying dinosaur, then you’ll get to use the express lane, 7 times, 1 time each on the 7 rides listed on the ticket. You can go use the normal lane as many times as you want, but you may only use the express lane ONCE for each ride. (This is very important, and it sucks)
- Express Pass <Name of Ride>
- USJ has 3 top attractions. The Flying dinosaur, Hollywood Dream (Backdrop), and another that is featured depending on the time of the year. If you buy the express pass for the flying dinosaur, then you cannot use the express lane for the Hollywood Dream. The pool of rides that fulfill the other 6 rides on your ticket for Express pass 7 will be the same. The only difference is this 1 top attraction.
- Timed Entry
- When you actually buy the USJ Express 7 ticket, there will be time windows printed on the ticket for the most popular rides. This is usually a 30-minute window. This is done so to keep the queueing times for the express lane low. There is also about 30 minutes between each timing window, so you don’t have to run from 1 ride to the other. For example, we were given a window of 13:40-14:10 for the Flying Dinosaur. We went there, showed them the express pass, and waited for maybe 10 minutes to get on the ride.
So I’ll say it again. Get the express 7. We were a little lucky because actually, it wasn’t too busy, and some of the less popular rides like the Amazing Spiderman, only had a 15 minutes wait. But Hollywood Dream had about an 80-minute wait and Flying Dinosaur was at 2 hours during its peak. Yes, it’s expensive, it’s another 12,000 yen just for the express pass, but if you spend all this money to get inside USJ and then get stuck waiting 3 hours for a ride, that’s almost a quarter of your day. USJ closes at 8 pm, with the night parade starting at 7:30.
Well, food is expensive. But I still really enjoyed it! Honestly, I think most of the time I enjoy the restaurant theming more than anything else. At the Harry Potter restaurant, we had chicken, corn + fish and chips. It was pretty expensive at around 1500 yen a plate, but we all just shared so could just try a bit and not be full when we went on a roller coaster.
So we ended up getting the Express Pass 7 – The Flying Dinosaur. But we were lucky enough to also do Jaws which was just had a low line up in general. We did the following rides (in this order)
- Harry Potter: Forbidden Journey
- Awesome ride, a mix of a 4D ride + physical robot monsters. Sao said this ride makes her a little sick because it swings you horizontal a lot.
- Flight of the Hippogriff
- This is for kids. Don’t do it
- It’s a boat ride with robotic sharks randomly appearing to scare you and things explode. You get may get a little wet. The kid behind us started crying and that was the highlight.
- Jurassic Park: The Ride
- A classic, a fun little adventure through Jurassic Park. Get a poncho or pray you don’t get put in the first row, cause you’re going to need an umbrella.
- The Flying Dinosaur
- The latest addition to the Jurassic Park universe. The most intense ride of the park. I loved it. The girls were scared. You go through most of the ride flat on your stomach, so make sure you don’t eat before, or you will throw up that turkey leg 🙂
- The Amazing Spider-Man 4D Ride
- This is a fun little walk down memory lane. It’s not a static 4D ride, so prepare to go through a lot of twists and turns. Don’t eat before this ride. Yu Chen ate a chicken wrap before this and she didn’t feel good after eating it.
- Minion Ride Mayham
- Another 4D ride. Good for kids, but still enjoyable for adults due to the minion charm. Less twists and turns than Spiderman but very “bumpy”.
- Hollywood Dream (Normal, not backdrop)
- This was a fun one. It’s one of the more intense rides. You also get to choose your own song. I chose Taylor Swift – Shake it off and that actually helped with the intense parts of the ride. The “security” on this ride is interesting. The staff scans your pockets before you’re allowed on the ride. I guess they don’t want things randomly falling off.
Overall I enjoyed all the rides. The 4D rides got a little old (also because I did them before in Universal Studios Florida), but still had fun overall. I LOVE roller coasters so I really enjoyed The Flying Dinosaur and The Hollywood Dream. If that’s your thing, then go in early during the day and line up normally for them, and then go again using the express pass. Then go ahead and eat a normal meal, so you don’t throw it all up.
Ending The Night
We stayed for the Harry Potter night show, which was short and sweet. We were too tired so we left before the night parade. Our AirBnb was really close by just across the highway. We took the cab and it only cost us 1400 yen, which is nothing divided amongst the 4 of us, and took less than 10 minutes. The bus would have taken about 30 minutes since it doesn’t take the highway. We stayed here and I highly recommend it! Cheap and good for 4 people, also close to dining places. It’s only about a 5-minute walk to the closest train station. At night, we wandered around to find food.
And that’s it for Universal Studios Japan in Osaka. Not too expensive overall, and it was really fun. Go go go. Fun final note: we all went through a bunch of planning in an attempt to save money on travel. But in the end, we all failed and took the Shinkansen back cause we were lazy (literally the most expensive option). Yu Chen was true to her budget and took the bus back. Good for her, shame on the rest of us. Oh and I almost forgot. I bought a scarf and owl hat from the Harry Potter shop. True story.
Final Budget Breakdown
- Flight to Osaka: 11,700 Yen
- Bus to Airport: 1,300 Yen
- Bus From Osaka Airport to USJ: 930 Yen
- USJ Ticket: 8,300 Yen
- USJ Express Pass: 12,600 Yen
- Air Bnb: 3,000 Yen (12,000 Yen / 4 people)
- Food Overall: 5,000 Yen
- Shinkansen Back To Tokyo: 14,540 Yen
- Total: 57,370 Yen ($686.49 CAD)
The best places to shave off money if you’re on a budget is the transportation from / to Osaka. A round trip flight to Osaka if you get it early enough can be as good as 14,000 yen (which is cheaper than a one way bullet train ride), and the bus from / to the airport is only sub 1500 yen. Have fun!!!!