Our black robes dusted the cobblestones as we passed under the village archway. Snow slipped off slanted roofs crowding the street ahead. Huddled groups stared through dim store windows. A few startled. Someone, or something, must have stared back.
I tailed my guide around tight corners of this foreign town. We’d heard the stories before: that magic rules around these parts, that it’s no place for an outsider to get lost. God knows what lurks in the forests outside those stone walls.
There wasn’t much time to think about it before our trail stopped dead at the water. Cold rock cliffs lined a long, glistening lake and stretched towards the horizon; above it all, the castle. Hogwarts.
A couple wearing matching Minions outfits then turned to take a selfie, the school’s ancient spires framed between their yellow hats. That’s just how things work at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Japan, and I’m not sure I’d have it another way.
Let me explain. Universal Studios Japan, nestled near central Osaka, invited someone from PEDESTRIAN.TV to head along to scope the place out. I avoided telling our Head of Editorial I hadn’t read a word of the Harry Potter series until I touched down at Kansai International Airport.
My guide, Satomi, met me at the park gates, where the mist from the iconic globe fountain was already a blessing in the summer heat.
Our first stop was Minion Park, the physical manifestation of Despicable Me. Everything was yellow and be-goggled: Minions ice-cream, Minions burgers, Minion water features. Satomi led me into Gru‘s workshop, the home of Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, a 4D ride which promises to turn passengers into Minions themselves. I emerged shaken and babbling, so I guess it may have worked (Satomi, perhaps wisely, waited to gather me outside).
That pastel scenery quickly gave way to jungle. More accurately, it opened to Jurassic Park. Khaki-suited staff ushered guests along the palm-lined boulevard. At the same time, The Flying Dinosaur, a twisting, looping monster of a rollercoaster, threatened guests with every step forward. Guests including me.
I was plunged head-first into corkscrews and an underground tunnel, much of it while hanging upside-down. I arrived back on land with the knowledge that English and Japanese screams of terror are mutually intelligible.
We passed small children gnawing on entire turkey legs – a suitably prehistoric treat – as we wandered towards Hogsmeade and the park’s Harry Potter district. Sadly, I found Ron Weasley’s Flying Ford Anglia was not in airborne condition.
Most things were decidedly enchanted, though. Wand magic throughout the park let punters conjure water sprites from fountains, and countless little beasties rustled in window displays along the main street. A cold Butterbeer from Three Broomsticks also went down okay, but the foam moustache it slapped on my face remains up for debate.
It was gone by the time we entered Hogwarts proper, not that anyone would have noticed in that cavernous expanse. Dusty portraits burst into life along stairwells, babbling warnings at everyone brave enough to hurry past, and the Sorting Hat spat its decrees at the end of a candle-lit corridor.
Of course, this was all in Japanese. That worked just fine for me, a visitor with as much a grasp on J.K. Rowling’s canon as the finer points of kanji. So too was Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey ride entirely dubbed in Japanese, but there’s no need to consider such things when you’re being thrown into a pit of Dementors and the throes of a Quidditch free-for-all. A pissed-off dragon blew flames from on an enormous screen and a gust of hot air hit the back of our necks, and a real-life Whomping Willow threw its burly branches towards the car.
All of this happened within three minutes.
As the sun finally crept towards the horizon, Satomi and I wandered back to the park entance, passing Sesame Street, One Piece and Evangelion XR Ride attractions. We’d been soaking up the park all day and still hadn’t seen everything.
Right now, Universal Studios Japan is offering one lucky punter a $4,000 Flight Centre gift card for a trip to Osaka and the park, plus ten one-day passes as a sweet bonus. Maybe you’ll walk away a winner, and can explain to me what was actually happening in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
To enter, go ahead and follow the link right HERE.