July 2014 saw the opening of the world’s second Harry Potter-inspired theme park area in Universal Studios Japan. Seeing as the Harry Potter series more or less permeated every aspect of my childhood, I
bused apparated over to Osaka last month to see for myself what all the hubbub was about. Well, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is as mind-blowingly magical as you can imagine, and I’m here to report all of the nerdy Potterhead details.
As soon as the woman at the entrance gate scanned my ticket, I broke into a sprint, blasting through crowds of slower Japanese people who were too afraid to break a sweat (you are weak). My sights were set on those castle spires in the distance, and I ran as if the Dementors had been set on me. I stumbled across the entrance to a large forest and hung a right, past a busted Ford Anglia, through the gates to Hogsmeade. I finally skidded to a stop in front of Hogwarts Castle, home to Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, the award-winning state-of-the-art attraction, and the centerpiece of the area.
I’ve never been on a ride quite like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and there is truly no ride in existence that I can compare it to without diminishing its greatness. The ride has a similar set up to that of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, in the sense that guests sit in a moving vehicle (in this case an enchanted bench) and are taken on a dark journey through an otherworldly building.
But the comparisons stop there, because after all, Haunted Mansion buggies aren’t propelled by robotic arms, nor do they launch you at various speeds in all directions while chasing dragons, escaping from giant spiders, or letting some Dementors eat it with your Patronus badassery. I don’t even have words. I played quidditch. The whole thing was basically an indescribable out of body experience, and the nostalgia and feels were so much that I nearly cried. All the awards.
Still on a high from our quidditch match, we immediately got in line for Flight of the Hippogriff, but not before seeing the 150 minute wait that Forbidden Journey had become during our short time on the ride. Good thing we sprinted. Flight of the Hippogriff was a fun but short ride, its strength (as many things in the park) lying in its atmosphere. I’m quite certain we spent more time taking selfies in front of Hagrid’s Hut than we did on the ride itself. Quite exciting, but if the wait time is longer than an hour, it’s probably wise to move on to bigger and better things.
Our next stop was the butterbeer stand, because no Harry Potter experience is complete without the sweet drink popular among magical folk. Patrons have the option of selecting either regular or frozen butterbeer (I highly recommend frozen, weather permitting), along with the option of purchasing an exclusive souvenir mug. This was one of the few times during my visit that I didn’t feel robbed, since the drink was delicious and the mug is nice quality.
Speaking of being robbed, one of the most interesting things to do in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is shopping. This is Hogsmeade after all, and you can bet your Chocolate Frog that I had a Galleon or ten saved up for all of the exclusive merchandise I would compulsively buy. And compulsively buy I did, as if I were under an Imperius curse cast by Universal itself. From Olivanders to Zonko’s to Honeydukes, it truly felt as if I were a Hogwarts student, off to spend my allowance on some Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans and Fizzing Whizzbees.
The packaging of these magical sweets was exquisite (as was the price tag), but how many times in your life are you going to be able to open a Chocolate Frog or eat a dirt flavored jelly bean? The correct answer is, “Too few.”
For dinner we ate at the Three Broomsticks Restaurant. Its layout is similar to those of other Universal eateries, in the sense that it’s cafeteria style and absurdly overpriced (like honestly I don’t think I’ve ever been so ripped off so many times in one day). Price complaints aside, the atmosphere was a ton of fun, and it really did feel like I was sitting in Hogsmeade and might catch a glimpse of a familiar witch or wizard turning the corner at any moment. Featured meals include fish and chips, shepherd’s pie, cornish pasties, and the “Great Feast”, a meat and vegetable dish large enough to feed four people. With their meal, guests can also enjoy pumpkin juice or a special Hog’s Head Brew on tap, all to the soundtrack of the Harry Potter films.
Admittedly, it was strange to see Harry and cohorts not speaking English (who knew they learned Japanese over at Hogwarts?), but in the end the language barrier didn’t hinder the experience for me one bit. Unfortunately there is no Diagon Alley, as has been recently added to the Orlando park, and by extension no Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts ride. But the rest of the area is more or less the same, with the exception of the long and winding Forbidden Forest entrance, which was fantastically executed and made me feel like I was truly entering a different world.
If you do decide to check out the new Harry Potter installment in Universal Studios Japan, make sure you get there early. I went on a Monday (non-holiday) and it was still packed beyond belief. On crowded days (i.e. every day), the park implements a timed entry ticketing system, which is similar to the FastPass system, if you are familiar with Disneyland. Upon entering the park, visitors must go to the ticketing location in the “Central Park” area, where they select an available time from a ticketing machine, which designates the time they are able to enter the Harry Potter area of the park.
Tickets for USJ can be purchased in advance at Lawson convenience stores within Japan, or on the Japanese website. Unfortunately, many of the ticket variations on the Japanese website are not for sale on the English site, but basic ticketing options are still available if Japanese is not your forté. Tickets can also be purchased on the day of, and go on sale an hour before the park opens.
Have you been to either the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Orlando, Japan, or both? Share your thoughts and experiences with us in the comments below!