Harry Potter

★Summer in Osaka★ Why You Should (or Shouldn’t) Go to USJ This Summer

6:18 PM

While I try to stay positive and tout all the amazing things there are to do in the Kansai area, every now and again, I just get so thoroughly dissatisfied with one (admittedly minute) part that I just have to vent. This was pretty apparent in my post about Spa World in Shin-Sekai, and though the experience at USJ was, in retrospect, not as bad, there was a noticeable drop in... quality I suppose, especially compared to previous trips.

For older blog posts about some of the cool things that go on at USJ, check out this Halloween Post, my first time at USJ, photos from the One Piece event in 2013, the post about One Piece Premiere Show 2013, or my recent trip for the One Piece Spring Event this year. This post will focus on the awesomeness (Sanji’s Restaurant), the still mostly pretty cool ( improved while simultaneously lacking), and the downright frustrating (MISTER POTTER *angry fist*).

This post also turned out much longer (read: rantier) that originally intended, so there’s a TL;DR below!

Sanji’s Restaurant

I think the single, best reason to go to USJ is for the One Piece-themed events! I have to admit that I don’t follow the show, and stopped reading the manga after I stopped getting Shonen JUMP, BUT I do enjoy the personalities of the characters and the way they interact. And that’s basically how the events work. The events from the show obviously influence what happens at the park (like Ace being not there :<), but the One Piece Premiere Show stories are completely separate. Similar to how the films work (I do enjoy watching the films)!

So it’s great for casual fans like myself, who enjoy the characters more than the show, and more hardcore fans like my BFF Aki, who has seen EVERYTHING. She’s a champ.

Sanji’s Restaurant is just one part of the multitudinous events at USJ. It is by online reservation ONLY, which means you cannot arrive the day of to get a ticket. You can’t even try to get the ticket 1 month before you plan to go as tickets tend to sell-out immediately. It is essential that you reserve your ticket as soon as reservations open if you want to go.

As far as English information goes, there is virtually none, aside from two news articles on the USJ English site. One was updated in February and the other is from May, and while the information does tell you where you can buy the tickets for the One Piece Premiere show, it doesn't tell you where to get Sanji’s Restaurant’s tickets or that those sites are only in Japanese, though I suppose it should be a given? Ish?

The Food

The meal itself is paid for in advance when you make your reservation online with adult meals at 4,100 yen and a child’s meal at 2,550 yen (tax included). The menu includes an appetizer, the main dish with chicken or fish (your choice), bread and desert. They did offer us a complimentary glass of orange juice or oolong tea when we entered, but any additional drinks, alcoholic or non-alcoholic, involve an extra fee starting from 400 yen.

The food wasn't very fancy, and I’m pretty sure the sauce used for the meat is the same sauce they use in the One Piece restaurant in Jurassic Park, but it’s not bad. And really, no one is there for the food anyway.

The desert was an Acai mousse topped with a pink heart-shaped macaron delivered by none other than Sanji himself. Together with the pre-recorded voice over, it was a little slice of what a bishie heaven must be like.

The Atmosphere

A shot from the Entrance.

The entire event takes about 80 minutes, and while the food is being brought out, you get to enjoy your own private One Piece show. This time, Zoro, Luffy, Nami and Law made appearances, which I hear is quite different from the Spring show which only featured Sanji, Chopper and one of the mermaid girls.

I've noticed that it's impossible to get a not-blurry photo of Luffy.

They’ll run around, using the prerecorded voices to interact with the guests, and they’ll even give out high-fives, toasts, or pop a squat next to you (when they’re hiding from Marines of course). I like to think of it as a small scale version of the Premiere Show where you can actually interact with the characters. Considering that the price for the two is almost the same, and only one of them includes food, Sanji’s Restaurant is a awesome deal and a must-see for One Piece fans visiting the Kansai area.

At the end of the event, each table gets to have a photo with the characters in attendance that day, and being that it is Sanji’s restaurant, he’s seated in the center. You can, of course, choose which character you want to stand by, but our faves for the day were Zoro and Sanji (you see that vice-grip Zoro has on Aki's head?? that's LOVEww).

One Piece Premiere Show

(photos aren't allowed during the show anymore, so enjoy these other random photos!)

This is my 3rd or 4th time going and my second trip this year (I went to the Spring show a couple months back when I dressed up like Brook). The Summer show was advertised as having a brand new show and an all around rise in presentation quality, and indeed it did! They've added a few more explosions, some cool CG graphics, and more characters (Buggy even showed up!).

The ‘meh’ side of the One Piece Premiere Show is the seating (they've also prohibited photos from this year, but it is easier to see without smartphones being waved in your face). The seats basically form a half-circle around the pool of water that acts like the stage (you can see what the stage looks like here). There are also poles, supporting the roof that covers the seating area, that essentially work as action blockers. What this means is that anything that happens right at the center of the seating area (there’s a small stage right in front of the middle isles), will probably be blocked by poles to the left and right. And what this means for the One Piece Premiere show is that a good amount of action is blocked for the 90 or so minutes that the show runs. They also tend to interact with the center crowd more than either side, which makes sense as those tickets cost more, but it’s not like the other seats are free either (actually, the price difference is only in intervals of 1000 yen or so, but it could have a big impact on how much of the show you can see). Our seats were 3,686 yen, and we were in the front row, but off to the far left, directly behind the pole. So, we ended up with moments where we just started off into space since we couldn't see anything. Those weren't the most exciting moments, so no real lost.

Anyway, I just feel like if they moved the characters around a bit more so that everyone gets a chance to see them once or twice, it would seem like getting your money’s worth. For now, I think the money is much better spent on Sanji’s Restaurant.

Wizarding Rocks from Harry Potter

Since we had some time before the One Piece Premiere Show, we thought it’d be cool to just SEE Hogwarts (ride times for the area were over 100 minutes), but they would only let people with applicable raffle tickets in so… we saw these rocks instead. SOB.

HP section for one of the souvenir shops near the Park Entrance.

We asked one of the staff about why this ridiculous system is in place, and she said it was to keep the area from getting overcrowded, but seeing as the wait times for HP attractions were even longer than the wait times for all the other USJ attractions, I don’t know if it’s working? AND some Harry Potter goods are ONLY sold in the Harry Potter area, you know, the same area you need a raffle ticket to get into in the first place. OHHH, I see USJ, you want my money, but not in any capacity that would be mutually beneficial. Got it.

Wizarding Ticketing System

There are TWO ticketing systems in place to get into the Harry Potter area and they are outlined here in English on USJ’s English site (I'll do a quick summary here too).

The first is the Time-Entry ticket system where you enter the park, line up and ask for an entry ticket that day. Timed-entry tickets appear to guarantee entry into HPland, but those are also only given out in limited quantities. You can also get a Timed-entry ticket in advance by buying the Universal Express booklet (which start at an extra 4,400 yen for HPland) or by using a travel agency when reserving your tickets. The travel agencies are listed (here at the bottom of the Tickets in Advanced tab), but most seem to operate solely in Asia. So basically, bring all yo' monies.

A pretty expensive set of Wand pens.

The second ticketing system comes into effect when there are no more Timed-entry tickets available. Since Timed-entry tickets can be purchased in advance, those looking to pick up a ticket the day of might already be out of luck, but if you really want to give it a go, I suggest entering the park as soon as it opens to use the Raffle (stand-by) ticket system. These can be picked up in the same area as the Timed-ticket entry, and the results can be checked with your phone (for those with a connection). The results will also be posted on small boards throughout the park.

So basically, if you’re coming to USJ just to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, best of luck to you (and you might not want to go in summer). Entry tickets may be unavailable if you arrive too late, and even if you get a (raffle) ticket, there is a possibility that your number may not be called. It seems like a rather poor way to entice people to see an attraction they might not get to see. Information is available in English on the website, and there are a few signs in the park as well, but it’s few and far between. There are some English speaking staff about, but I don’t know how reliable they are. :<

Other disappointing aspects were street shows appearing, seemingly randomly since there are no time tables posted, attractions not working (the Hollywood The Dream roller coaster was shut down about 30 minutes after we arrived at the park. It’s their only roller coaster), unexplained delays for attractions (at one point, the line stopped moving for over 20 minutes, and then we had to jump out of line because the Sanji event was starting), and inaccurate wait times posted in front of attractions (the supposed 25 minute wait for Space Fantasy The Ride turned into 60+ minutes). 

For Studio Pass holders, it’s not terrible, and expected in summer, but I can’t imagine the frustration anyone from out of town might feel coming to USJ. Compared to my experience at Disney Land and Disney Sea, I’m sad to say USJ still feels like it’s lacking (even the staff seem unwilling to work at times, unheard of in JP!) and I would definitely recommend Disneyland to those visiting Japan before USJ (sorry Kansai, but we gotta bring our A game).

My pass will be expire this September, and I’ll probably renew since I go to USJ for various events throughout the year, but… I’ll probably skip the rest of the summer season. Unless I buy a Universal Express book*!

*Except I probably won’t since the ones that include entry to HPland start at 4,400 yen. Egads! :<

The TL;DR Version:

I bought things USJ, but I'm still mad at you...

Sanji's Restaurant is awesome and a much better deal than the One Piece Premier Show, however tickets sell-out FAST so you have to make a reservation as soon as they open. You cannot even enter HPland without a ticket separate from your park ticket that can only be acquired in advance through agencies not connected to Universal Studios. The raffle tickets received in the park DO NOT GUARANTEE ENTRY INTO HPLAND.

Don't go to USJ in the summer. It's really hot and there are lines everywhere that require you to stand in the heat for way too long. By the time you sit on a ride, it'll probably be covered in someone else's sweat.

Here’s to a less-crowded summer elsewhere!


Extra photos will be uploaded to the W <3 Kansai tumblr

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