I know a few people that have been to this theme park in America, but much like Disneyland, I ended up in the Japanese version instead. Universal Studios is much like Disneyland but with no castle. The rides are better, but the atmosphere, good as it is, is ever so slightly less special, perhaps because they've not been going so long and have less of a consistent rich heritage to draw from. Having spoke to the friends that visited Universal Studios in America, I believe the Japan one is very similar so all the below comments no doubt hold true (more or less) for that one too.
However that all sounds a bit negative, and there's certainly nothing negative about Universal Studios Japan so I will make only a few more comparisons with Tokyo Disneyland. Universal Studios Japan (USJ) is a masterpiece of artificiality and entertainment and I defy anyone not to feel like a special kid when walking around. The whole park is divided up into different themed areas, the largest of which feels like the New York section, a very convincing albeit too clean representation of several New York streets. By going on a Wednesday in November, I managed to avoid a lot of the peak season crowds and therefore a lot of the queues. Still the average queue time for the popular rides was about 20 minutes, and not speaking Japanese I could not take advantage of the fast-track system. However one day was enough to do most of the popular attractions, which include the following:
Not so much a ride as a 3D cinema/theatre performance, and certainly the best thing in USJ. Before the cinema experience there is some preamble in another room that holds about 150 people. A Japanese girl stands high up on a platform presenting all about Cyberdyne Systems, and asks members of the audience where they are from. (Despite not speaking Japanese, it becomes obvious when the answers are things like "Osaka" and "Kyoto"). My friend John put his hand up and so the light shone on us. To obvious surprise, the girl asked us in perfect English "where are you from?". We replied loudly "England", and at which point she said in Japanese something which must have meant "These two have come a long way, please give them a round of applause". So we had about 150 Japanese people turning to look at us, clapping, whilst standing under the spotlight. This is a most strange feeling. We only saw about 4 other westerners in USJ all day long. Despite the cinema experience and presentation being in Japanese, this show is very perfectly crafted and the 3d effects (using modern Imax style 3D glasses, not that old fashioned green/red stuff) are up there with Imax. There are 3 large wraparound screens and an uncountable number of speakers hanging from the ceiling, and you will certainly feel as if you are in the movie. It's really hard to describe beyond this point, better to see it for yourself. Even better to go twice like we did.
I read on the internet after I got back home that this ride was the last one of its type working, as the two Back to the future rides in the USA have now come to the end of their life and are being replaced by the Simpsons ride . What a pity is all I can say. You get to sit in a hydraulically operated 8 seater DeLorean and are treated to a wraparound cinema-2000 style flight through various places and times, with the hydraulics shifting the DeLorean in time to the on screen entertainment. As if this wasn't great enough ,there is a real DeLorean car outside the ride, complete with it's back to the future time travel body kit.
One of the newer rides and it shows. Stronger hydraulics than the Back to the Future ride, a mini-rollercoaster, a wraparound screen *and* 3D glasses as well. Not one for the motion sickness prone, especially at the finale as the vehicle you are in pitches off the top of a skyscraper and falls a long long way to the streets of Manhatten. Or thats what you think is happening anyway and the effect is certainly very very convincing. The rest of the the ride is a 3d or on-rails trip around new york with 3d characters from the spiderman universe hassling you along the way, with Spidey himself saving the day each time. Probably the second best ride of the lot, after Terminator.
This is a large scale log-flume, with some animatronic dinosaurs along the way. It looks quite high from the outside. it looks even higher on the inside and is in fact a 25.9 meter drop, which goes very fast. There is barely time for the swear word to leave your mouth before you've pretty much reached the bottom and got wet. It is ironic that whilst in the Jurassic Park section of USJ, you are effectively in a theme park based upon a movie about a fictional theme park that went so wrong that people got killed.
An on-rails boat ride around Amity bay. They really ought to dirty up the water there a bit just so you can't see the fact that the boat is effectively driving along the bottom of the water. I guess anything of this complexity must leave nothing to chance but best not let the audience see that eh? The boat "tour guide" was hyperactively enthusiastic despite having repeated her performance many many times that afternoon. There are some real flames and semi-artificial but real-looking explosions along the way, and some sharks as well. Quite enjoyable.
Having come from the earlier Jurassic park ride I was a bit apprehensive wondering exactly what a rollercoaster might feel like when seated on a pedal bike. Not to worry though, the ET ride is a tame but endearing ride around the night skies of Los Angeles and then ET's own homeworld.
This is more a show than a ride and suffered a little from a lot of explanations and pre-show movies that were in Japanese. Still, the eventual flame show in a chemical factory was a masterpiece of creating a real repeatable fire in a very very controlled environment.
Those were all the ones I managed to see, along with some of the night-time outdoor Peter Pan show, which involved fireworks, dancing, singing and wire work. I didn't see all of this though as I was in the Terminator 2 show for a second run.
There are also many other things to see there, a lot of which predictable involve places to shop or place to take photos. Each ride has a themed shop on the exit, and there are several American themed restaurants around as well. The prices are reasonable compared to what they could be for people trapped in a theme park, and the "Mel's Diner" is a fairly convincing recreation of a 1950's style American drive-in diner (from the movie American Graffiti) , complete with some 50's cars parked outside. In the Jurassic Park zone there are some vehicles from the movie and a lot of other attention to detail too, and a large shark in the Jaws area; it's nice to see these things for real even if they are entirely artificial recreations of movie props, themselves artificial anyway.
There is a the Land of Oz too, a weird trippy looking place with some bizarre looking munchkin houses and a yellow brick road as well. Unfortunatly the effect is spoiled slighty because the grass surrounding the yellow brick road is just green painted tarmac. Still, if you don't examine anything too closely in USJ, then the effect is quite convincing. The same could be said of Disneyland, with it's concrete castle and plastic astroturf grass. Other areas include a Snoopy Land and a Waterworld show (which had finished for the day by the time I got that far) and a few people walking around in costumes such as Woody Woodpecker and Hello Kitty. All in all, Universal Studios Japan a great day out if you're in Osaka, and well worth the £25 entry fee and the short train ride to get there. It even has its own Metro stop : Universal City. Outside the park itself are another selection of shops, a McDonalds (of course), a Hard Rock cafe and Osaka's own Takoyaki museum, an entire shop-cum-whatever devoted to Osaka's number one piece of steet cuisine, the Takoyaki octopus ball.
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Copyright © M.F.Hughes 2007