Universal Studios Japan: Harry Potter Edition

That's a nice flag in the background to truly prove that this picture is taken at Universal Studios JAPAN.

Confession: I have been to USJ thrice by now. Once in 2011 on a Sunday in summer (crowds were bearable, surprisingly) and once in 2013 on a Saturday during the Halloween Horror Nights period (never again).

This year, I went to USJ on a Wednesday, for one sole reason only. The reason is stated in the post title.

My excitement levels hit a major high upon seeing this sight, before going into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (TWWHP).

I am, of course, a Harry Potter fan. The characters, the richness of its world, the mythology - I love it, just love it. 

So even though I am pretty much over USJ after visiting it twice (I am especially over it after waiting in line for the SpiderMan ride for three hours once), I just had to go again, to see TWWHP for myself. There was also Universal Cool Japan to look at, although that turned out to be a huge disappointment in the end.

The highlight of  USJ is definitely the TWWHP segment, now.

I picked a Wednesday to go to USJ in hopes of avoiding the crowds. USJ seems to be Osaka's premier theme park so everyone goes here... to line up. As it is, the crowds on the Wednesday morning was already swelling with each ticking minute.

Thanks to TWWHP, USJ upped the ticket prices from the previous years. They used to be around ¥6,700, I believe. Now they are ¥7,200, or RM214 as of current exchange rates.

First, I had to get a timed ticket from a ticketing machine. It's slightly away from the Harry Potter entrance, most likely to avoid crowd congestion. What you do is to scan your admission ticket at the machine. Then, you get to choose what time you want to enter TWWHP. I choose 10.30AM, the next available time slot.

TWWHP is located at the end of a trail. From the entrance near Jurassic Park, USJ staff will check your ticket. You will then get to go in on the trail. Make sure you are at the entrance during your ten minutes entrance slot, or you might have to go get another timed ticket again.

The trail is surrounded by thick trees, and at the end of the trail, one will reach the entrance of Hogsmeade, as above. One will then see this beautiful, beautiful sight.

Oh look, a bunch of Asians in Hogsmeade. Including me.

I am guessing by the decor that Hogsmeade is supposed to be in a state of winter. TWWHP was a lot smaller than I expected, consisting of Hogsmeade, the Black Lake, and the castle. That's... pretty much it. The castle was a lot smaller than how it looked like in the movie, too, though I suppose that is to be expected.

Anyway, just because it is small, did not mean it was disappointing. I enjoyed looking at the decor, taking pictures in it, and being in a general state of "LOOK AT ME I AM IN TWWHP". Seeing the castle made me extremely happy. Seeing as that I never got my letter from Hogwarts, I suppose this will have to do.

First order of the day was exploring the village, and then lunch. I walked into shops like Zonko's Joke Shop and Honeyduke, feeling way more excited than I should at my age about being in a physical place that looks exactly like one of my favourite fictional places.

I grew less excited when I saw the prices for the items. A Chocolate Frog, for example, costs ¥1,200. That's RM36 for a piece of chocolate. Sure, it's a big piece of chocolate, but come on now. I can buy imported chocolates at that size for half the price at airports.

My friend enlightens me to the fact that when TWWHP first started, people used to line up just to go into the shops. LINE UP TO GO INSIDE SHOPS.  Luckily, we did no such ridiculous thing. We could just walk into the shop, look at the decorations, gasp melodramatically over the prices, take pictures, and move on.

Here's a few pictures from Honeydukes.

I liked the attention to details in the shops. If you ignore the crowds of tourists, and find a quiet spot, you can almost... pretend you are in the real Hogsmeade, in some amazing parallel universe where Hogwarts and its world does exist.


Before lunch, we went to line up for the Ollivanders shop attraction. It took us about 20 or so minutes to get in after getting on the waiting line, which is bearable waiting time if you ask me.

It's not a ride - you just go into the Ollivanders shop in a group. The bookshelves move to reveal an inside room, where a Caucasian man pretending to be Mr. Ollivanders (he speaks in both English and Japanese) welcomes us.

He was a bit too young to be Mr Ollivanders, but I suppose you can't go around finding people in their 70s to play a theme park shopkeeper. Mr Ollivanders then picks a 'special' person from the crowd. This 'special' person gets to wave wands around, until they find the right wand (ala Harry in the first book).

The 'special' person in our group...

happened to be the only Caucasian guy...

who also happened to be my friend.

I think I found it vastly hilarious that my friend had a 'please help me' expression on his face all the time, which made this excursion to Ollivanders even more fun than it should have been. Mr Ollivanders made him swish and flick different wands, resulting in things like a wilting flower and thunderstorms inside the shop.

Then, when Mr Ollivanders uttered "I wonder..." and handed my friend THE wand that was right, I lost it. As soon as my friend was made to swish the wand, an illuminating light came down from above and I couldn't stop snickering as Mr Ollivanders made a big show of giving the wand to my friend.

So there you have it. To make the trip to Ollivanders' shop more fun, have your friend get picked to be 'The Chosen One'.

Oh, and if you are wondering if we got to keep the wand... no, we did not. We went out and a staff immediately approached us, asking us to give the wand back... with tons of apologies on her part. It was all a bit sudden after leaving the shop, so I totally forgot to take a picture with the wand before giving it back.


My tummy growled in anger, and therefore we made our way to...

The Three Broomsticks. 

Me! Dining at Three Broomsticks! Me! 

If you come in a group of four or more, you should order The Great Feast as it is a great photo prop. If, however, there are only two of you, you are better off ordering ala carte. I got myself the fish and chips ( ¥1,500) and of course, BUTTERBEER (¥1,200).

There are two types of Butterbeer to be sold, namely the liquid version and the frozen version. The liquid version is cheaper, but I have also heard that it is sickly sweet and bad. Thus, I opted for the frozen version, even though it was pretty chilly and windy in mid-April, especially sitting next to a lake.

I could have opted to sit inside, but the view outside was prettier and so I braved it.

I got to see this as I dined.


Food verdict: Well, the food is nothing to shout about, and I certainly wouldn't recommend this place outside of a theme park setting. If it was located outside, it'd be like my trip to the Alice in Wonderland restaurant in Ginza: a one-time only experience. Still, it is the only place to sit down and eat at in TWWHP, so as far as theme park food goes, this is not bad at all.

As for the Butterbeer... you can get your Butterbeer in a flimsy plastic cup for ¥500 less, but... that won't make the photo look nice, will it? Of course, I opted for the mug version. I have heard bad reviews of Butterbeer (like cream soda with half a cup of sugar in it), but I find myself quite liking the frozen Butterbeer. Please note that I have a high tolerance for sweet food, however. I think the frozen Butterbeer would have served me better in summer than a chilly spring afternoon.

You get to keep the mug (unfortunately you cannot buy just the mug), so if you ask me, Three Broomsticks needs several basins located at the entrance. People will want to wash their mugs clean. You can however easily go to the restrooms to wash your mugs.

I adore the details in the restrooms. I find it especially bone-tickling funny that Moaning Myrtle keeps talking in Japanese from time to time, her voice blaring from hidden speakers.

Finally it was time to get on the main ride attraction of TWWHP - Harry Potter and The Forbidden Journey. It's a thrill ride that has your legs dangling, while you follow Harry Potter and friends on a, well, Forbidden Journey through Hogwarts, the Forbidden Forest, and so on.

It's located inside the castle itself, so while you wait in line you get to see the Herbology greenhouse, Dumbledore's office, and so on. My waiting time... was an hour and twenty minutes.

I have always said that waiting in lines at theme parks is a test of friendship. Yet another place that proves that we are vastly overpopulated; just hang out in a popular theme park in Asia.

We finally got on the ride, which uses a mixture of real machines and 4D screens to simulate an actual ride through the skies. We follow Harry and gang while they ride on their broomsticks, hence the 'dangling legs' aspect of the ride. I like that they alternate the screens with 'real' stuff, so as to give my eyes a break from the glare of the screen. The ride ended all too soon mere minutes later.

I would have liked to gone back on it again, but this time the estimated waiting time went up to two hours. Jeez people. Other rides also had overly long waiting times, and so... I went out of TWWHP to go explore Universal Cool Japan instead, at around 3PM.

Big mistake. I was fairly excited to visit Universal Cool Japan, mostly because I am an Attack on Titan fan and I really wanted to see the 3D model of Levi.

In the end, all I got to see of Universal Cool Japan is this. No rides, nothing. Just this.

NO LEVI. *rages*

Why? Let me tell you why.

Turns out 'Attack on Titan: The Real' needed a timed ticket too. Timed tickets that were 'SOLD' OUT by the time I got there.

*mutters unflattering stuff underneath my breath about how I needed to pay ¥7,200 to get in and still couldn't access all rides just because I didn't know one of them needed a timed ticket too*

I could not go back into TWWHP anymore after coming out out there as well. The other rides, well, let's just say that I have been on the good ones already, and I didn't want to stand around for another two to three hours waiting for a ride.

So I went and watched this, instead, where I could sit down.

Water World!

The amount of people in here have visibly lessened from the last time I was here - everybody seems to be stuck waiting for rides, so they don't get to come see the Water World show. I recommend this place for families though. This has to be much preferable than waiting in line with a bunch of easily bored children and pre-teens.

Then I went out to check out the new Universal Wonderland... and left USJ at almost 6PM because there was nothing else to do unless I wanted to do more waiting... which I didn't. I have watched the Magical Starlight Parade before, and while it was a visual beauty, it had nothing on my favourite night parade - Fantasmic! in DisneySea.

So that was basically it. I paid RM214 for that. The whole experience also stopped being 'new', so I was not much inclined to go around looking at stuff. It just was not that kind of theme park.

 Crowds have significantly damaged the appeal of USJ for me - the waiting in line thing is horrifying for one ride, let alone doing it over and over again for other rides. Paying more for express passes may be the only way to make USJ palatable, but honestly, the entrance ticket pricing itself is already horrifying enough.

I pretty much only wanted to go this time thanks to TWWHP. Been there, done that, and honestly... TWWHP is not enough of an attraction to make me want to return again just for it. 

Conclusion: I will recommend USJ only if you are a theme park lover, if you have not been, and if you are willing to shell out at least ¥15,000 for an entrance ticket, the Express Pass 5/7, as well as for food in the theme park. This is basically the only way you may be able to enjoy all the rides fully in one day, without waiting too much.

Even the most hardcore Harry Potter fan, I think, will find it annoying to be only allowed in to TWWHP at a certain time, and still have to wait. Apparently on weekends the wait for the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride  can go up to four hours.


So yeah. Express passes is the way to go, I suppose, if you want to brave the theme park. Or you can test your patience level and see how long you can wait in line before you feel like going crazy.

The end.