Thursday, December 25, 2008

My Family Christmas Trip to Universal Studios Japan in Osaka

For Christmas this year, I decided to take my kids to Universal Studios Japan (USJ) in Osaka, Japan. We live in southern Japan and Osaka is only a 2 hour flight so it makes more sense for us to go to USJ vice flying all the way to Los Angeles.

I have never been to any Universal Studios park so I have no basis on which to judge the park in Japan against the parks in the US. I have read, however, that the Japan park is smaller than the parks in the US.

We arranged a package deal through a travel agent in our local city that included air fare, hotel, and park tickets, but not transportation from the airport to the park so we were on our own. There are two options for getting from the airport to the park, the first is the train and the second is a bus. My original idea was to take the bus but I am real fan of the Japanese train systems so I opted for the train once we arrive in Osaka. To get to the train just follow the signs for the train to the JR station that is right outside the entrance to the airport. Be sure to go to the JR station. There is another train that is a local train and will not get you to where you want to go. The cost to get from the airport to "Universal City", which is the train station at USJ is about 1200 yen per person and takes about 1 hour and 20 minutes. You will also have to change trains on the way. Even though I have lived in Japan for 15 years, speak the language, and am familiar with the Japanese train system I had a little trouble figuring out how to purchase the train tickets. There was a very nice station attendant that helped us purcahse our tickets and we were on our way. The first leg of the train trip takes about 1 hour to Nishikujoo where you will have to chnage trains. The announcements are in Japanese and English so figuring out which is the correct stop is not difficult. When you exit the train at Nishikujoo you do not have to go far to get the next train, only about 5-10 feet to the other side of the platform. If you look at the signs it will list Universal City as the destination. The next train is only about 5 minutes and Universal City is the second stop.

When you exit the train you will be in what is know as Univeral City, which is a not a city but a shopping, resturant, and hotel district setup to service customers going to Univeral Studios. We had reservations at one of the hotels in Universak City and it was only about 100 steps from the train station exit. In Univeral City there are numerous resturants such as McDonalds, Mos Burger, Hard Rock Cafe, as well as many Japanese resturants. There are also a number of shops to buy souviners as well as a convience store. Things such as water, food, and other items purcahsed in Univiersal City are much cheaper than items purcahsed in the park. for example a coke purchased at the convience store will run about 150 yen but the same coke in the park will run 250 yen. Univeral City is only 2 minutes walking distance away from the park so it is very wasy to go back to the hotel or to the store and avoid the higher prices in the park.

The hotel we stayed at was the Keihan Universal City. I am not a big fan of most Japanese hotels although I have stayed in some really nice ones. This hotel was clean and warm with just the basics necessary. The beds were too hard and the pillows to small but since our goal was not to spend too much time in the hotel I did not mind too much. The room came with a free buffet breakfast every morning which is exactly like the free buffet breakfast I have had at every other Japanese hotel I have ever stayed at. There must be a national buffet breakfast menu that ever hotel goes off of.

We had two options on our package deal. We could have done a 1.5 day ticket or a 2 days ticket. The 1.5 day ticket is good the day of arrival ater 3 PM and the second day only. The 2 day ticket is good for the second and third day. I opted for the 2 day ticket, which turned out to be a good thing as it rained the first night we arrived. Check the weather before you go and I would suggest buying some cheap over sized parkas that you can slip over your clothes when it starts to rain. A parka at the park will cost 1000 yen when you can get the same item at at 100 yen store.

USJ is a very clean and well organized park. I did not need a map to get around as everything is marked in Japanese and English with signs all over the place pointing you in the right direction. There is only 1 roller coster in the park but there are several other rides that the kids liked as well. Some of our favorites were Spider Man, Back to the Future, Jurasic Park, Jaws, and the roller coaster. ET was okay and back draft too forever to get to the main part which was too short in my opinion but worth seeing once. There are also a lot of shows to see as well. We liked Water World, Wicked, and the Rock and Roll Monster Show. There was also a Peter Pan show that was only played at night which was nice. There were a number of other shows that we did not have time to see or that the kids wanted to skip as the shows were geared toward the younger kids.

Overall we had a great trip. Like everything in Japan it was expensive but I have grown accustomed to that.

Once more word of advice. On the return train tip to the airport make sure you sit in one of the first four cars of the train. Just before the train gets to the airport the train will split in half with the first four cars going to the airport and the back four cars going somewhere else.

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