My Travels, Out Of The Box — September 25, 2011 at 10:03 PM

Universal Studios Japan: A Hollywood Experience!

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Of the few amusement parks in Japan that are both worth going to and taking along friends, I can say readily that Universal Studios Japan is one of them. Located on the man-made archipelago of Sakura-jima in Osaka-fu,Universal Studios Japan is a massive park themed around various Universal Studios characters and movies – Snoopy, Spiderman, Jaws, Jurassic Park, etc. Easily reachable by a special train, the entrance of USJ opens up to a world of caramel popcorn – lots of it – cheerios, overflowing mascots – often terrifying – and bright, bubbly music.
Since an explanation of the whole tour of Universal Studios Japan would be practically impossible – though early risers will be awarded by a full day of fun – I’ll stick to a ride-to-ride basis explanation, starting from the most infamous. When you speak of USJ, mostly to people who’ve been there before, based on personal experience, I can say that the ride they most exalted was the Spider-man Ride.
What is it? Well, essentially, it’s a 4D ride through the slums of Manhattan as you fight crime, fall from buildings, get scalded in the face, and end up floating back to safety after impersonating some gullible news reporters testing out a new crime-reporting vehicle. The whole setting is fascinating and frankly terrifying; suitably, the line which one has to wait to enter this wonderful world of smoke and spiders is never shorter than an hour (or perhaps that was just my own traumatic experience). However – and here perhaps lies the secret of this ride’s greatness – you will never be bored, as the whole lining setup is in a dark, moody news reporting office; crackly scenes of reporters on TV and lines of portraits and newspaper clippings will make you itch to turn the next corner. And, as you travel further into the abyss, you will find that the rooms become more complex; a red-illuminated room for developing film, for example, or a complete office complex, boxes and desks and all. Speaking out of experience, the Spiderman Ride is one of those elusive ‘musts’ which one must ride – is compelled to, actually – at least three times.
The next ride, perhaps as famous, is the Jurassic Park Ride. Suitable to its name, this ride is located in an area which entrance is illumined by a huge stone arch and flaming torches on either side; the whole Jurassic Park area is full of broken down, rusty jeeps, replicas of various dinosaurs, leafy fronds, and the most delicious kind of ‘dinosaur meat’ chicken bone which, though messy, is absolutely heavenly and must be eaten (though that is beside the point). The end of the ride itself is observable from a view platform and I advise you to watch carefully. Because, if one isn’t prepared fully with plastic raincoats – another must when going to USJ – you will see in the massive splash of the ride vehicle descending into a lake of water which reaches even yourself as you observe from a far shore, that fashion is no longer a considering point in this matter. The ride is, at first, a leisurely boat tour observing prehistoric animals; a friendly splatter in the face of an unlucky observer is the only major happening. But then things go wrong as your tour vehicle swerves off course; red lights flash and broken crates float in the water as you slowly, horrifically, travel up, ever up, into a dark storage house. Strange roars, a few screams, and the next thing you know, you are travelling down between the legs of a T-rex as you plummet to the ground in a 30 meter (94 ft) drop to a lagoon where you are suitably drenched in the massive splash ensuing. Friendly framed pictures of you at your most terrified hour are at your disposal.
04270061Another popular attraction, Jaws, is the same terrifying experience of a peaceful boat ride, bloody shark corpse (or is it…?) and ending in a explosive show where you are attacked from the side by a giant, scarred, gore-covered shark (though the tour guides never say this, if you look closely in the pictures you can situate yourself on the side opposite which the shark bites, thus avoiding getting wet). In my opinion, the most frightening factor of this ride are the cheerful tones of the tour guides as they load and lock rifles while at the same time assuring you that everything is quite alright. Two of the newer rides are the Hollywood Dream ride, where you can listen to b-pop music as you twirl in loops, drop from frightening heights, and during the night, enjoy an absolutely breathtaking view of an illumined park (highly recommended), and the Space Fantasy Ride, where you enter a futuristic world of softly glowing displays, strange but strangely adorable robots, and a field of stars and constellations as you tumble through space, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes spinning, in a frankly exhilarating process. And then, my own personal recommendation is the good ol’ Back to the Future Ride, my ultimate favorite; a 3D ride in Docs’ battered old DeLorean as you travel through time and space, cavernous lava pits and futuristic city boards, as Docs’ infamous bad driving batters you up, jerks you around, and terrifies you senseless as you chase the bad guy Biff – and eventually end up saving him, for some reason.
Yes, all these wonderfully action-packed rides are amazing. But the real attraction of USJ is, surprisingly, not that. Though often opted to be ignored by foolish sightseers, the real magic lies in the 3D and more often 4D theatres – the Shrek Adventures, the Terminator movie, Backdrift, Sesame Street Movie Magic, Water World, and much more. Though they may seem dull in the flyers, these are another ‘must’, a classic of Universal Studios Japan, and without which – and cheerios and popcorn, of course – you cannot experience the full real deal.
04280015And then, finally, perhaps what I enjoyed most the last time I went there; the Starlight Parade. Though USJ does change its parades according to the seasons and holidays, I can guarantee that you’ll enjoy this show whatever time you visit. The thousands of glowing lights, the massive floats with iconic characters, the dancing girls and men, the frankly eccentric costumes and blasting loud music; honestly, there is no way to describe it in mere words. But I will say that it will be an extreme waste of your money if you don’t stay back and watch this. The time lost will not be regretted.07160002

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