Japan Day 17 (Part I) - Osaka

I liked the Hotel Mystays Dojima. They had given us different sized pillows, some foam, some normal stuffing, some rollers, and none of them felt like newspapers. We also had plenty of space to spread out, and plenty of outlets scattered everywhere, some of which were just USB ports which made them even more convenient. The mirror in the bathroom even had a square patch at eye-height that didn’t fog up when the bathroom got all steamy from the shower. I had always wondered how they managed that, and discovered that the square on the mirror was simply heated from behind. What a great idea.

It was a beautiful, sunny day and we made up our minds to give Universal Studios another go. We checked out of the hotel room, walked to Osaka station, found lockers to store our backpacks in, and rode the train for the second time over to Universal City. We agreed that we should leave by 3:00, to give ourselves enough time to reclaim our luggage, ride the two trains over to Hiroshima, and checkin before sunset. It would be a jam packed day, but we were so ready to have some amusement park fun after having to walk away the day before.

Since we only had a limited amount of time, Fletch splurged for the Express Passes. I would normally never even consider something so extravagant, but Fletch always knows how to have a good time. We knew he had made the right call when we effortlessly zipped to the front of the line for the Hollywood Dream roller coaster. One of the biggest rides at the park, and we didn’t have to spend a minute in line. That was almost as much fun as the ride itself.

After a metal detector pat down (Really? Is that a thing now? Or just a Japan thing?), the attendants strapped us into the harnesses, and we were off, creeping our way upwards. We reached the peak of the track and admired the view of Universal Studios, and Osaka off in the distance, from the top. I hadn’t been on a roller coaster in years. This was about to get interesting. And then we were falling, plummeting downwards. That first drop sent my stomach slingshotting out of place like a punch to the gut. Loud J-pop music was blasting into my ears through the speakers on the seat. The buttons to change the station didn’t work. Upwards and downwards again we hurled, leaving me whooping and hollering until what felt like a moment later, the ride was over. I was all smiles. We had made the right choice coming back here today.

A couple of the more popular rides had small time slots for which we could use the Express Pass, and the Flying Dinosaur ride’s time slot was coming up, so we meandered our way out of Hollywood and over to Jurassic Park. The detail that went into all the rides and the restaurants in any given area really was impressive. I felt like we had actually entered Jurassic park, with the large rock walls surrounding us everywhere. We had just enough time to go on the Jurassic Park ride before our other time slot was due, and so once again, zoomed to the front of the line. I almost felt guilty watching everyone else wait. The Jurassic Park ride was a water raft, and as soon as we boarded our raft, all the Asian guests began pulling rain ponchos out of their bags and donning them. Uh oh. Apparently they knew something that we didn’t. The raft brought us on a relaxing journey past a stegosaurus, past a duck-billed-saurus (my dino names are a little rusty) playing in the water and then through a gate marked “Prohibited Area.” Now things weren’t so tranquil. Electric fences were down, “High Voltage” signs were dangling off their posts, and two little chicken dinosaurs (I’m just going to name them) were tugging at the remains of a torn up uniform. A metal holding container nearly fell on our heads as we entered the concrete receiving area. The float brought us up and up and up in the dark, until we reached the top, where a t-rex jumped out at us and sent us hurling back down with a final splash. I was sitting on the end but the rain ponchos really weren’t necessary.

Floating through Jurassic Park. 

The dinosaurs are escaping! 

Next was the Flying Dinosaur. A crazy maze of a line wrapped its way through endless boundary ropes, and we got to wave at all the hundreds or maybe even thousands of people as we skipped the better part of the line. The Express line was even impressive. It was finally our turn and we got harnessed into our seats. When everyone was ready to go, the seats all flipped forward at once, leaving us face-down in a flying position. Then away we flew. It really did feel like being caught in the clutches of an escaped pterodactyl. Up and down and around in spirals we soared. And then I caught a glimpse of Hogwarts off in the distance, that beautiful castle I had dreamed of since my book worm days. I had a moment of nostalgia before I was sent twirling downwards and upside down. Hogwarts was here. I was flying like a dinosaur in my favorite movie, and looking at the world I had dreamed of visiting from my favorite book. My day was made.

Do I look like a pterodactyl just dropped me off? 

The ride was so much fun that we tried to race back over to the line and go again, but unfortunately the Express Passes were only good to skip the line once. Our disappointment faded after a moment, and we made our way over to Amity Village (they really did put all my favorite movies in one spot) for lunch. Most of the food was a weird combo between seafood and fast food. I ended up with a tuna and corn pizza that wasn’t half bad for amusement park food. Plus the food helped to settle my stomach which was doing funny things after being shaken around so many times. I refused to acknowledge any queasiness though.

Our next time slot was at Minion Park for the Minion Mayhem ride. This was by far the busiest area yet, because Asians absolutely love minions. Of everyone dressed up that day, a good 75% of them were minions. Couples in matching minion t-shirts, kids in minion costumes, girls with minion overalls and bright yellow t-shirts, guys with minion hats… there was no question as to what the popular vote fore favorite movie would have been.

Time to get turned into a minion!

We entered Gru’s house and had to go through three separate waiting areas before we made it to the ride. Luckily each of the waiting areas had videos playing, tutorials on what to expect when we were all turned into minions in a few minutes. Then we were loaded into cars and lifted into a huge, domed area like a planetarium, where the screen sent us on an animated adventure. It was a virtual reality roller coaster. At the end, Gru had a change of heart and turned us back into humans again. Some of the guests still looked like minions coming out though.

Unfortunately our time slots for the two rides in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter were at the end of the day, long after we would have to depart. I still had to see the area though. We were so close, and I had wanted to see it for so long.

The entry way was a long path that led through a pine tree forest. We saw fewer people here than we had seen at the bamboo forest. If I had known that, I’d have skipped the bamboo and come straight to Hogwarts. We eventually emerged into Hogsmead Village. Steep roofs covered in snow looked exactly like the movie. The attention to detail was amazing. To my right was the Hogwarts Express. Oh how I used to dream of being on that train. Yes, I was one of those nerds.

The Hogwarts Express

All the village shops were real. Some were restaurants, some were actual stores from the books. Honeydukes was there, as was Zonko’s Joke Shop, and Olivanders, and Dervish and Banges. Over in a clearing, little kids were being taught how to open doors with their wands. A digital overlay on a wooden door occasional creaked or flew open, much to the excitement of the kids.


We wandered through Hogsmead, and eventually came to Hogwarts. She was a beauty. The Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride was inside the castle, and so we decided to try our luck at using our Express Passes. It must not have been busy because they waved us straight through. We weren’t allowed to bring anything onto the ride with us, and so were led into a dimly lit area that felt like the dungeon with some densely packed lockers where we deposited everything. Then, armed with only the key on a bracelet, we wound our way through the line. I almost wished the line had been a longer wait, because it brought us through so many different rooms of Hogwarts that were all furnished and decorated with painstaking detail. It was like being in the real castle. We wandered through the dimly lit, stone hallways, went up the staircases where all the paintings on the walls talked and moved, and they didn’t just look like digital screens, but actual moving paintings. There was the stone gargoyle leading to Dumbledore’s office. There was the painting of the fat lady. There was the sorting hat, talking away, unfortunately in Japanese. We wandered through classrooms and finally through the Gryffindor common room. There was almost no line to speak of, and so before I could take it all in, we were being seated into a row of harnesses hovering above a track.

This was another virtual ride, with some parts being displayed on high definition screens, and some animatronics coming into play as well. We were following Harry and Ron on broomsticks, but unfortunately they were speaking Japanese so I wasn’t quite certain what the mission was, but we rode our brooms up and down through nearly every major scene in the movies. Spiders from the Forbidden Forest jumped out at us, the basilisk struck at us, dementors swarmed, the Whomping Willow nearly impaled us. There was the Golden Snitch just ahead! Just out of reach… A dragon breathed fire on us, and hot air actually blew in our faces. I think we saved the day, but again, Harry and Ron only spoke Japanese so I’m not quite sure if they were congratulating us at the end or telling us we were toast.

We left dimly-lit Hogwarts and reemerged into the sunlight, squinting ahead at the other ride, the Flight of the Hippogriff. This ride wouldn’t allow us to use our Express Pass since the time wasn’t until much later, and so we decided to just stand in line like all the common folk. How long could it be?

The line once again brought us around various scenes from the movies, including Hagrid’s Hut. We didn’t have to wait more than about 15 minutes. Lucky for me that Asians were more into minions than Harry Potter. This was a little old-school roller coaster, with a rickety track and wicker cars, the front one being shaped like a Hippogriff. It was charming in its own way, and over after a minute.

Sirius Black's motorbike beside Hagrid's Hut

On our way out of Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, we passed by a show that was just beginning. Western kids dressed up in Hogwarts robes were singing a musical number. I made Fletch stop for a moment, curious to see a bunch of white kids singing in Japanese. Surely that would offer some amusement. There were no words though, just the same syllable sung repeatedly. How sad if a musical career had to succumb to that. Apparently if you're a gaijin in need of a job in Japan, you can dress up as a fictional gaijin at Universal Studios.

We left the Wizarding World and wandered over to the New York area, the only area of the park that we hadn’t seen yet. There was a Curious George attraction with an entire row of baby strollers lined up against the building, as far as the eye could see. We could definitely skip that whatever that was, in fact just looking at it was exhausting. We turned and looked at each other, and decided that we were happy and had seen everything that we wanted to see. The Express Passes had gotten us through the highlights of the park in a whomping three hours. We bought some caramel corn on our way out, and made our way back to the train.

To be continued...