Meandering through Universal Studios Osaka

Talk about lucky streak. I was given a one-day chance to go to Osaka and visit Universal Studios where you’ll find the newly-opened Wizarding World.

It opened last July. Now some parents think of their kids when it comes to amusement parks. My two boys, who are both diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, are not particularly fond of Harry Potter. Well not as excited as most kids anyway. If I would to bring them along, they wouldn’t enjoy it as much as I would. Especially my younger son, Derek, he doesn’t like amusement park rides, if ever he would be stuck at the Child Switch Booth where you safely leave adults or kids who want sit out a ride for various reasons.

A few observations about Osaka.

Osaka a little more laid back than Tokyo. While the capital is all stiff business, Osaka’s business is to entertain and enjoy.

I took the limousine bus to the Osaka City Air Terminal (or Namba). The bus ride is reasonably priced at Y1,000. It’s comfortable and very efficient. Please be reminded that everything is on time in Japan. I arrived at my designated berth at 8:26pm. It left at 8:25pm. Lesson No. 1: Be on time.

No worries though as the there is a dispatch every 30 minutes. I just waited and made sure that I wasn’t going to miss this one.

My hotel was the Namba Oriental which was a 20 minute (I have short legs) underground walk from Osaka City Air Terminal. It traverses through 2 train stations and there are restaurants and shops all lined up in this underground walk. I was lucky to find some advice posted on the internet as to where my exit should be. I exited at B21 and came up to the surface and started looking for the recommended landmarks.

Namba Walk was abuzz with activity. Bright lights, neons, pachinko, entertainment, men’s clubs and ladies’ clubs, urban city shopping and restaurants to the ting yang. It was a covered section of the area which felt like The Vegas Strip but not as big and not as daunting. I got sidetrack by a gentleman who pointed at my suitcase and looked at me before walking away with his buddies. I brought my Pollocked-inspired suitcase and camera bag. It donned on me that I appeared like a coordinated traveller which is so not me. Nevertheless, I am very proud of how I made my bag and suitcase.

Going back, normally the Japanese are reserved but the people from Osaka seemed to be more flamboyant with their expressions and more relaxed with themselves. I really didn’t mind. I wasn’t offended or threatened by it and it wasn’t like they did any harm. Lesson 2: Don’t take it personally. They observe. They don’t criticize.

My friend had told me that Osaka is the best place for Japanese food. Restaurants are everywhere. In my last trip, my travelling companion had asked about Kobe beef but my Japanese friends recommend that Matsusaka beef is much better and even more reasonable than Kobe. The No. 1 restaurant on Trip Advisor for Matsusaka beef I found very near the Namba Walk. It was very flavorful even without the seasoning and the prices were reasonable beginning at Y3,500. Lesson No. 3: Do your research on the internet as to where and what to eat. It pays to know what you’ll be eating.

A little past the Namba Walk is the Namba River. A river lined with , you guessed it, restaurants and clubs galore. You’ll see women and men enticing you to come into their bar. Diners lining up for Takoyaki and Okonomiyaki among other things.

After a long drawn out night, it was lights out. Tomorrow, Wizarding World

Since I was tired, I woke up late and got to the Universal Studios a little bit later than I had preferred. From Namba Walk, Universal Studios is a 30 minute train ride with 2 stops in between.  But as always, just follow the map and the signs, you will never have any trouble with the Japanese train system.  This is Lesson No. 4.

Yes, the line was long but it moved pretty quickly. There were a lot of young people. I was told that it was the school holidays. All the kids were out of school for a week. This was a Friday and the crowd felt like Saturday. The park was already filled to the brim and it wasn’t even brunch yet. 

Lesson No. 5: Check for the school holidays if you want a thinner crowd.

My only agenda was Wizarding World. I wanted to get there first but since I hadn’t eaten breakfast, I went to the nearest boulangerie for some coffee and strawberry shortcake. Did I mention that I love Japanese strawberries?…

Anyway, I was still reeling in from last night’s walking so I stayed for a good 40 minutes at the boulangerie and went straight to Wizarding World. It wasn’t difficult to find since the map was in English but, of course, I was distracted by the sights so it took a while to get there.

I came to Wizarding World and I was stopped by a sign and an attendant who said that I needed a time-entry ticket. This ticket assigns your entry time into the Harry Potter section. It was their way of controlling traffic into that section to ensure that people would still be comfortable. It took me about 15 or 20 minutes to find the Timed-Entry Ticket Machine. When it came it out, it read 7:20pm.

Oh my! Lesson No. 6: Go straight to the Timed-Entry Ticket Machine as soon as you get in. You can get to your other agenda soon enough

I originally had no plans of staying in the park the whole day. I had no intentions of falling in long lines for the other rides or buying merchandise of Universal’s other movies. I was upset and I had to calm down. I stayed at the a diner at the Jaws section and decided to take a break and an early lunch.

After lunch, I decided to enjoy the rest of the park and trust in the Higher Power that everything will be alright. Most important lesson. Lesson No. 6.

So I started with the Jaws cruise. A river ride with several shark animatronics aimed at scaring the hell out of you while your kawaii Japanese river guide tries to protect you with her rifle. It was cute as it reminded me of those Japanese robot shows I’d watch back when I was a kid. I focused on enjoying the rest of the day. I wasn’t going to complain. Lesson No. 7. Make a conscious decision to enjoy.

All rides have Singles line which meant that you would be on the Express Line if you were alone. I didn’t realize that until after last ride. Lesson 8: Don’t complain. The long lines are a given. If you can afford, go for the Express Pass so you don’t have to.

The Jurassic Park ride left me in stitches. I was beginning to enjoy myself I little bit more. The Back to the Future ride was definitely better than the 3D rides back home but on the overall, I thought it was ok. The best ride for me was Spiderman in 3D ride. I found myself ducking whenever something would come near me. It had me engaged the whole time. It was worth the 100 minute wait in line. Even the line wasn’t boring because it moved pretty fast and it was laid out like a Spiderman newspaper office museum.

After all that lining up, I decided to sit down on a bench. It was 6:25pm and I had an hour left before I could go in and see Hagrid.

6:30pm. The wind and rain picked up and I had to run for cover at the carnival games section. I decided to wait it out. The wind was cold and strong and the sky seemed thick.

7:00pm I knew that it wasn’t going to stop anytime soon. No choice but to get a poncho with floppy Snoopy ears just so I can get in my appointed time. I wrapped my camera bag with a discarded plastic bag for a carnival plush toy and hid it under my poncho. There was no way I could take pictures now without ruining my camera.

It took a while to enter and the walk to Hogsmeade was long and drawn out. I was cold and wet. It was dark and dreary enough for a Dementor to fly out. There were sounds of owls and toads as the soundtrack played. The muggle car crashed into a bush. I could have been in the movie right now. It felt great!

Finally it was Hogsmeade but it was now 7:45pm and the park closes at 9pm. There was no way I could ride and then I saw Hogwarts up on a hill with a lake below. The attention to details was breathtaking with the evening sky in the background. I could only take out the picture with phone and it was good enough.

I went straight for the merchandise for my niece’s birthday present. The stores were crowded. Everybody was drenched and cold with rain but they were hurrying as well. Yes, they had Olivander’s wands but I didn’t want to take away the experience of chosing my niece’s wand for her. It wasn’t bad at Y3,500. I heard there was a gentleman walking around finding kids whose wands chose them but I guess with the crowd, I’d be hiding too. LOL

Robes were at Y13,500. Are you kidding?! No she wasn’t getting that so I figured she could get Hogwart’s school supplies for her birthday. Good thing I knew which house she belonged to. The paying lines were long and winding. I forgot to buy towels and t-shirts for my boys in my haste.

I dashed straight off to Honeyduke’s for some treats for the rest of my nephews and nieces. It had a long and winding line outside the store in the pouring rain. The line attendant spoked to me in Nihonggo warning me that there were no more stocks of Bernie Bott’s Every Flavour Bean and Chocolate Frogs. I gently asked her to say it again and she was kind enough to speak in her broken English. I noticed that when you lower your tone and speak gently and slowly, they can understand your English better and they will speak slowly too. Lesson 9: Since both of you are groping for words might as well meet each other halfway. Be kind and they will try to help you in the best they can.

Anyway, I’ve been taking chances all day so what’s to stop me now. By this time, I was a line expert.

By the time, I got out for butterbeer, the park and all the attractions were closing. There was no way I could get a drink. I wait by the Owlery to stay a little dry and there were owl animatronics up on the ceiling. I tried to take a shot but I couldn’t negotiate with the darkness, the distance and the moisture because of the rains. I tried anyway. The walk out to the park was long and there was still the train ride to negotiate with.

My feet and calves were hurting and my sneakers were sloshing. It was definitely time to go home. I had my Hogwarts stash and my camera under my poncho and waddled all the way back to my hotel room.

As much as I wanted to sleep, I was still hungry. I hadn’t eaten dinner. Thank goodness for Namba Walk. Some restaurants were still open. Lesson 10: If you can’t decide what to eat follow the lines (or did not do your research then make sure their menu has pictures. Lesson 11: If you don’t want to line anymore, go the familiar. They do have Burger King, McDonald’s, Yoshinoya, Starbucks and Mos Burger.

After a quick dinner because the restaurants were also closing, I plopped in bed like a floppy doll and zonked out. I could lightly smell cigarette in my room because of the Pachinko Hall at the basement of the hotel. Lesson 12: If you have issues with cigarette smoke, avoid a hotel with a pachinko hall. It was generally ok to stay there but I guess I was tired and on the verge of whining why I decided to pick on the cigarette smoke. My sheets smelled clean anyway and I could always take a hot bath.  The Japanese have the best bathrooms, each bathroom is always a new experience.

It was still raining the next morning but I felt much better now. I had to catch the shinkasen to Shinagawa for an afternoon appointment in Yoyogi. So hopefully, what I went through helps you in enjoying Universal Studios Osaka.

Overall, Just focus on enjoying and be kind to your hosts and they will easily return the kindness to you.

For extra gaijin learning in Japan, check out:
7 Habits You Learn After Living in Japan