USJ = UFJ?
My first summer in Japan was a mixture of adventure, surprise, and shopping sprees. I’d explored just about everywhere in the main Kansai area within the first two months. Or at least I thought I had until one of my students asked me one day “Have you ever been to USJ?” I had reacted slightly confused to that question, wondering why I was being asked if I had ever been to a bank. The student laughed at my ignorance, pointing out that he had said ‘USJ’ and not ‘UFJ’ (the previous name of MUFG Bank).
“What is USJ?” I inquired with some curiosity after he went on to say that he went there often with his friends.
“Universal Studios Japan,” came the ready reply.
“There’s a Universal Studios in Japan?” I was pleasantly surprised to hear this and more embarrassed to learn that USJ was actually in Osaka. Even though I had been living in Osaka for over three months and had supposedly been everywhere and done everything that there was to do, I had apparently missed a spot. A big one at that!
Ghostbusters haunting Universal Studios Florida
When I was a child, my family took me to the Universal Studios Florida in Orlando. That had been one of the best vacations of my childhood and I remember it vividly up until this day. Having been a huge fan of the Ghostbusters, I had immensely enjoyed the performance put on by the stand-in cast as well as the sight of Ecto-1 (the Ghostbusters’ automobile) driving down one of the streets alongside me. I can probably even remember what I had for lunch that day. Universal Studios Florida had been a dream vacation for a child with my imagination and had left a lasting impression in my mind.
So, upon hearing that there was a Universal Studios in Japan, I decided that I just had to pay it a visit. My days off were pretty difficult to match up with my husband’s at the time so we had to make arrangements in advance to have the same day off. This was done about a month in advance, neither of us taking into consideration the possibility of the weather not cooperating on that day. As luck would have it, when our USJ date finally sprung up on us… so did a massive rainstorm. This was also the time that I learnt about Japan’s rainy season, having originally assumed that Japan was sunny and hot 365 days a year. However, most of the attractions would be inside and we’d been looking forward to going all month so we did not call off our date.
We took the JR train to Universal City Station, transferring halfway because we’d accidentally boarded the wrong train. When the correct train did pull into the station, I became ever more excited to see that it was painted brightly with drawings of the characters that we would be seeing in USJ – like Spiderman and Jaws. Playing the part of the perfect tourist, I took out my new Sony Cybershot camera (that I’d purchased the week before at Yodobashi Camera) and began to film the train. My family would just love to see this, I thought to myself.
The ride to USJ was remarkably short, much shorter than the two-day road trip my father had griped about while driving all the way from Toronto to Florida many years ago. We left the train and followed the crowds that hurriedly rushed along to the main entrance. I made the process a lot slower by snapping photos of everything in my path. As soon as we reached the ticket gates, I was hit by a sudden wave of nostalgia upon seeing the enormous revolving USJ globe surrounded by a water fountain to one side of the park. It was nearly identical to the one that I’d seen over a decade ago in Florida. At that moment, I felt as if I had just met up with an old familiar friend.
After gaining admission to the park, I dragged my husband over to the Spiderman ride. It was the first attraction that I wanted to see because all of my English students had been raving about it. I think that it was also relatively new at the time. When we took our place at the end of the line, we didn’t realize just how long it would take to weave through the queue inside before reaching the actual ride. Luckily, we got inside before it began to rain too hard. The wait was long but not without its distractions. There were various monitors and things on display for us to amuse ourselves with while we waited. At the end of the wait, we got our 3-D glasses, hopped into Spiderman’s car and off we went. The ride itself was loaded with special effects and a storyline that even I could follow in Japanese. (For anyone who doesn’t understand Japanese, I doubt it will be much of a problem because the action speaks for itself.) It was intensely thrilling to go through the excitement of Spiderman’s world in 3-D, especially with an out-of-control car leading the way. By the end of the ride, we were full of energy and eager to seek out the next attraction.
Typhoon magically makes lines disappear!
However… when we got outside, the rainstorm that we’d left unattended had turned into a full-fledged typhoon! This was also the first time in my life that I’d ever experienced a typhoon firsthand so I didn’t know what to expect. My husband didn’t seem to think too much of it. He went into one of the nearby stores, purchased two transparent rain ponchos and suggested that we see which of the attractions had the shortest waiting time. We could wait the typhoon out from inside one of the buildings, maybe by watching a movie or performance. Before that, we stopped to get a bite to eat – two donut-like sugar sticks and grilled chicken. Some forty minutes later, we returned to the Terminator live performance, hoping that the waiting time wasn’t still hovering around the 70 minute marker. When we reached the front doors… we received a shock. There was no line at all! What incredible luck!
The Terminator was very realistic with their live action heroes coming out into the audience during the performance, and similar to Spiderman, the show made good use of a wide variety of 3-D effects.
Onto the next attraction… also with absolutely no line. As we approached Spiderman’s domain once more, spotting the empty corridors inside, we didn’t need to think twice. We darted back inside, racing through the deserted queue until we reached the cars again.
The entire day went by very quickly and easily, despite the typhoon ruining any photo opportunities that might have cropped up along the way. Everyone else was hiding indoors to escape the rain and incredible winds, choosing to shop instead of wandering around. This made gaining access to the rides and attractions a breeze. No waiting whatsoever! Everything except for the outdoor animal and stunt show continued to run as usual.
We reached another familiar destination to one end of the park – Jurassic Park. A few people were lined up here but the wait couldn’t have been more than 10 minutes. And we already had our rain ponchos so we didn’t need to leave the line to purchase any from the vending machines. Vending machines that sell ponchos! Another first. The first time around was an absolute nightmare! It started out calm enough with a simple boat cruising through an abandoned area of Jurassic Park. Then it steadily gained pace, going through an eerie frightening dark area and eventually running into… (you will need to experience this part for yourself!) Without spoiling too much of the ride, we ended up leaving it soaking wet – half from the typhoon and half from the impact with a very large wave. And noticing that the line of waiting patrons didn’t extend past the platform, we rode Jurassic Park three more times before exhausting ourselves.
Time for lunch!
The closest available food source in the Jurassic Park area was a vendor selling turkey legs. We were famished so we didn’t think anything of it and sat down on a bench to eat. It was perhaps seconds later that I bolted upright, pointing to some kind of foreign creature on the bench. My husband followed suit, quickly losing his appetite once he had caught sight of the collection of slugs squirming all over the bench. In Canada it would have been worms but here in Japan it just had to be slugs! If it had been my sister instead of me, she would have taken the encounter in stride and even taken one or two of the friendly slugs home with her. But after the ride through dinosaur land, I wasn’t feeling too compassionate towards the slimy creatures. Come to think of it, the turkey legs seemed a lot like…
“Don’t these turkey legs look a lot like the dinosaur legs inside the ride?” I pestered my husband, no longer interested in my meal.
He looked at me as if I’d lost my mind… and then replaced his turkey leg inside of the paper bag, stating that he would eat it later.
Our typhoon day at USJ was not only wild and exciting but it was also downright peculiar and strange.
I whipped out my camera and began to photograph wet slimy slugs for my sister, having to catch up to my husband who had ventured off without me.
Next was Jaws. I’m not too fond of sharks so I hadn’t enjoyed this particular ride in my original trip to Universal Studios Florida. This time around was fine because I was utterly confident knowing that the shark was not real. Still, it did have its moments. After that I don’t clearly remember where we went next but I’m sure that we acquired more sugar around that point. And through it all, we weren’t inconvenienced by being made to wait for access to anything inside the park. Close to the end of the day, we came around in a circle, having seen everything except for ET. But… the park would be closing in 5 minutes and they’d already closed the queue off with a rope. Oh well…
Now you see him, now you don’t
However, one of the girls standing outside the rope suddenly beckoned to us. “Do you want to see ET?” She asked us.
“Yes, but it’s closed, isn’t it?”
“If you hurry, you can get on before it closes.”
We thanked her and rushed inside. It was incredibly kind of the park employees to let us on the ET ride even though it had officially closed a few minutes earlier. And this was also another strange experience that I couldn’t help but laugh over. Because of the restricted time limit and the fact that we were riding after-hours, the ride had been sped up. The music was playing in fast-forward mode and the ride itself jerked along at warp speed. Still, we enjoyed having the chance to pay a visit to ET, even though he did disappear from our peripheral vision within seconds.
We left smiling and chatting over the day’s events. And I left feeling satisfied that Japan’s version of Universal Studios was just as entertaining as Florida’s, despite the missing Ghostbusters attraction. For such a small area, Osaka had managed to make USJ very successful by cramming in as many attractions as they could fit into it. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in spirit.
Now, as the days become hotter and more humid, soon to be entering typhoon season, I’m planning on visiting USJ once again. This time I hope that it will be a bright sunny day so that I can take many photos to share with my family back home. If it rains again, resulting in a non-existent waiting time, I promise to leave my complaints unvoiced while I jump from one attraction to the next. Reliving the excitement once again.