Japan 2023: Day 24

Failing a Detective Conan escape room, and acquiring my own wizarding wand while surviving the mobs of people at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka.

After cleaning up my room and calling my partner, I left for Universal Studios Japan at around 10:15 a.m. I grabbed a konbini sandwich and some snacks for my makeshift breakfast that I planned to eat on the Hankyu Limited Express train. While the internet said it was ok to eat on this kind of train, I still felt self-conscious since I was in a 4-seat section (2 seats facing me), and I was the only one eating! I ate a few bites and then left the rest for later.

  • Steps taken: 22,043
  • Money spent: $323.23
    • USJ express pass: 23,800円 | $182.03 USD
    • USJ ticket: 8,700円| $65.39 USD

Table of contents

Back to Osaka

Learning that the same train line can go to different places

Apparently I was a bit overconfident from yesterday's somewhat straightforward commute to and from Osaka's Edion Arena for the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament. The Hankyu train was the same good stuff, but the transfer from Osaka-Umeda station to Osaka Station on the Matsuojou Line I needed to make was less clear. It took me a while to realize I had gone to the right line but at the wrong station -- Umeda instead of Osaka (because Osaka-Umeda is some large station in between them!). And yes, apparently this mattered -- even though they're the same line, they don't go to the same stops. Omg.

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At Universal Studios Japan

After maybe a 20 minute delay from being lost, I made it to the promised land of USJ -- along with what seemed to be a few hundred other people at the same time. Oof, it was crowded on the trains and at the entrance! I considered coming to the park earlier in the day, but I knew I had to manage my energy. I had gotten an Express Pass with timed entries that unfortunately spanned  later in the day to around 8 p.m. I knew I wouldn't be able to last that long if I had come earlier... alas, the tradeoff was dealing with crowds, even on a gloomy, windy Monday.

Thankfully, I had all my ticket and express pass things on my phone, so entering the park was quick beyond getting through the herd.

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Jiujutsu Kaisen 4-D

I got inside the gates at 11:30 a.m. The first thing I did was the JJK 4-D experience as it was near the entrance and had a modest 30-minute estimated wait time. I did not have an Express Pass for this.  I actually only waited about 15 minutes before I got into the building and was watching the first cutscene. The whole experience may have been about 30 minutes. It was pretty cool! I'm not the biggest JJK fan but even I was excited to see some familiar characters, especially Fujisaki, and get the kanji for "curse" embedded in my head.

After that, I went to check if I could get a packet for the SpyxFamily event... but by that time at 12:30, it was sold out. :(

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Doraemon Nobita Sky Paradapia Tours

I had about 15 minutes before my next express pass ride, the Nobita Sky Paradapia Tours. I wandered around the immediate area, taking in the atmosphere, impressive displays, many shops, and most noticably, the food lines! Oh my goodness. The food lines even for the most insignificant thing, like America hot dogs, were so long.

When it was time for my Doraemon ride, I saw the estimated wait was 140 minutes. The initial entry took me less than 3 minutes to get through, and then another 20 minutes for the line just before the ride itself, where there was a merge of express pass and regular riders and then a split between group and single riders. I didn't see how I could get to the single line without jumping over a barrier, so I stayed in place. I probably waited an extra 10 minutes, but it's ok.

The ride and the screens before it were awesome! It was so wholesome and fun. Now I want to get more into Doraemon.

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Lunch and parade

I had about an hour before my express pass timed entry into Harry Potter's Wizarding World, so I endeavored to find some real food without waiting too long in line... I found an American diner restaurant with several cashiers and lots of tables inside. This was it! Indeed I only waited less than 10 minutes until I ordered and received my messy and just-decent "spicy avocado cheeseburger" meal set, a "seasonal item". Not the best food I had in Japan, but I knew I would like it more than the other smaller street vendor food I'd have to wait a long time to receive.

Despite the plethora of proper tables, I couldn't find a free one, so I joined some others sitting on the street curb and chowed down. I learned in times like these that even Japanese folks will eschew common etiquette of not eating while walking or not sitting on proper seats or benches. But! Littering was still not a thing, thank goodness.

Not long after I finished eating, I noticed folks were gathering along the main street. I figured out a parade was about to happen, with a song called, "Dance dance no limit!" Floats of dancers dressed as characters from various popular franchises came up -- Pokemon, Mario Kart, Minions, Despicable Me, and maybe more. Again I was impressed at the sheer quality of the costumes and floats. The music was cheesy at first but became very catchy for me -- I started dancing myself!

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Harry Potter's Wizarding World

As the parade passed my standing area, I realized my timed entry for Harry Potter World was about to begin. Making my way through the parade crowd was rough, but eventually I found that slightly more peaceful path lined with tall trees that led to the quaint re-imagined town of Hogsmeade and the grand replica of Hogwarts.

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The Forbidden Journey

  • Estimated wait: 130 minutes
  • With express pass: in immediately, with <5 minute wait for queue just before the ride

Like clockwork, my express pass window for the Forbidden Journey ride came up. The environment around the queue line was so cool, which meandered through the building of Hogwarts with its moving portrait paintings and other iconic HP imagery. That was the one unfortunate thing about the express pass: I didn't get to appreciate the queue environment so much.

That said, the Forbidden Journey itself was one of my favorite rides of the day. Like most USJ rides, it was an elaborate simulator with lots of incredibly well-done animations of Harry Potter protagonists and villains that really made me feel immersed in the world. I got pretty scared as well when those creepy, faceless Dementors seemingly got so close to my face...

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Flight of the Hippogriff

  • Estimated wait: 100 min
  • With express pass: no wait

After wandering around Hogsmeade a bit more, it was then time for my express pass entry into the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster next to the Forbidden Journey. This roller coaster was rather quick and underwhelming, to be honest, but with 0 wait I enjoyed myself.

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My own wizarding wand

I had a while until my next activity, so I checked out Olivander's, where I perused the wizarding wands on sale for specific HP characters or more non-character-specific (replicas of) materials such as Yew, Ebony, White Oak, etc. I caved and bought a Yew wand. These wands are special in that they allow you to "cast" spells around the HP World in USJ, along with other Universal Studios HP World locations. You have to point and move your wand in a very specific way in front of a small infrared camera to initiate a specific effect.

What I didn't expect were the lines just to do the spells themselves... and the difficulty in doing them just right! I could only activate two out of the three spells I had time to try, though there are eight total.

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Detective Conan Escape Room

Time flies (and doesn't) when you have to wait for everything. Before I knew it, it was time for me to head to my paid escape room experience. It was off in some hidden corner near the park entrance. You had to get an advanced ticket for it, 3,200 yen for a 2-hour adventure. I had no idea what to expect. Everyone was seated in a large main room and put into teams of up to 2 people each, though I think I was the only team of 1 -- and only English speaker. (Yes, I decided this experience is beyond my level of Japanese!) There was a group of actors who introduced us to this particular Detective Conan story and game. It was really fun watching them live, even if I didn't understand everything. It felt like a live action anime voice / physical show!

Each team was given a tablet that they could set their language to and interact with objects in various rooms. It was a lot of picture taking, "scanning", and answering some tricky questions. The interface was very well done, but it took me a little while to get the hang of the game. Teams were split into four groups to go to a particular room and finish as much of that part of the game as they can within a time limit. After each "round", we then moved to another room and did the same thing.

In the final round, the actors reappeared, and another mystery was introduced for us to solve. I flat out failed at this one! We had 30 minutes to solve a series of questions, and i am embarrassed to admit I couldn't even figure out the first solution. But I could tell at least I wasn't the only one...

At the end of that round, we all gathered back in the main room, where the actors did a final (long, dramatic!) scene. Adult Conan walked through how he so cleverly solved the mystery, which tied to pieces of the game. Then the top ten teams' scores were displayed on the screen. Omg. They were at least 1800 points, and I was at 280! Awful. I do suspect some people have come back and done this game more than once, trying to crack the top score... But anyway, I still had a blast, and I wish I could've shared that experience with a friend.

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Super Nintendo World

By now it was close to 7 p.m., cold and windy and dark. Finally I was getting my timed entrance to Super Nintendo World, but to be honest I was so tired and jaded with the crowds that I didn't really care much anymore. My plan was just to get into the area, ride the two rides I had an express pass for, and then head home.

The line into the area was frustratingly long for how late it was. I got in after surviving the crowd for about 10 minutes.

The area itself was rather magical. For a brief moment I was joyous, filled with childhood nostalgia at all the bright, happy or naughty Nintendo characters and environmental pieces.

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Mario Kart: Koopa's Challenge

  • Estimated wait: 90 min
  • With pass: 20 minute internal line

After snapping a few pictures, I made a beeline for the Mario Kart ride. I was immediately let into the inner area, but there was still a wait just before the ride loading itself. Like the other rides, this one had such an impressive queue line atmosphere. The ride itself was another impressive virtual feat! I did manage to get over 100 coins (the criteria for "winning") but I did find it tricky, even as an experienced gamer.

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Yoshi's Adventure

  • Estimated wait: 60 min
  • With pass: no wait

My last express pass ride in Super Nintendo World was for Yoshi. I heard lackluster things about it, so my expectations were not high. Indeed, it was a very leisurely, flat and slow ride with nice views of the park, along with a little tunnel section. I would not queue for this line, but I didn't mind it as an express pass holder.

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Hollywood Dream

  • Estimated wait: 120 min
  • With pass: less than 5 min

It was past 8 p.m. by the time I wrapped up Super Nintendo World. It was still dark and windy, and the park was closing soon. I started making my way out of the park but then remembered that I actually still had two more express rides: the Hollywood Dream and Minions one. I don't remember hearing anything special about the Minions one, and the Hollywood Dream one was on the way out, so I checked if I could sneak on there. I could, and I was glad I did: it was a very fun roller coaster! Perhaps one of my top three favorite rides of the day.

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Reflecting on USJ

USJ was a fun but exhausting and at times frustrating experience. Even though I went on a Monday with an express pass, and it was not peak season, the crowds were so much. Perhaps it was partly my fault for coming at 11:30 a.m. instead of at the ass-crack of dawn. From the final train transfers to and from USJ (lunch time to closing time), it was just so many people, all the time.

Regardless, as it has been in most of Japan, the service workers were so pleasant, enthusiastic, and hopeful that your day was magical at their park. While I was cranky leaving a still-crowded Super Nintendo World at 7:45 p.m. on a dark, windy night, I couldn't help but smile seeing a staff person do an enthusiastic, positive Mario dance to welcome each new group of guests into that section of the park.

I was also thankful to have experienced several Japan-only attractions – particularly the Doraemon, JJK 4-D, and Detective Conan escape room. Those were super cool.

The express pass was quite steep of a price, but I would have been miserable without it. Those lines were awful and even less enjoyable when solo without a friend to talk to, at least for me.

Back to Kyoto

On the way out, I had a quick dinner at Most Burger again. This time I tried the shrimp cutlet burger. It was yummyyy. So out of my three Most Burger experiences so far, I think my favorite is the fish filet, but the ebi is a close second.

The first few train rides back were a bit unpleasantly crowded, but the longer express train from Osaka to Kamasura Kyoto was peaceful. I got back at around 9:30 p.m. and started on my computer stuff...

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Pictures pending.

See the rest of my posts about Japan 2023.