Not speaking the language of a country where you visit a theme park is normally not a major issue because the attractions largely involve visuals and physical experiences. But with Universal Studios (ユニバーサル・スタジオ) parks, things are a little different. The attractions attempt to create a whole world for us to live in for a brief time, and to paint a full picture as if in a movie.
This is also the case at Universal Studios Japan (ユニバーサル・スタジオ・ジャパン). Generally speaking, though, the Japanese language elements are not significant enough to prevent non-Japanese speakers from having great fun there.
Here’s a breakdown of the Japanese language use for the different attractions, to help you make the most of your visit. Please note that kids’ attractions are not covered – let’s face it, kids don’t go for the subtle explanations and context, and will be more than happy with the amazing sights and thrills!
There is pretty much no need for Japanese or English here – you know what you’re going to get with rollercoasters (which doesn’t make them any less terrifying). Having said that, these are not regular rollercoasters: Hollywood Dream can be ridden backwards and The Flying Dinosaur has you looking face down at the park, seemingly flying like a pteranodon! The only vocals involved will be everyone around you screaming, which needs no translation.
This is a probably a ride to avoid if you don’t have much time. Around 15 minutes are taken up at the start (after the line) in a large gathering space where a performer tries to make people laugh (in Japanese) and generally even those who speak the language just want to get on with the ride.
The main event is a big theater and cinema combination with actors performing in front of 3D action on the screen, which involves original Terminator (ターミネーター) actors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Edward Furlong. This attraction is worthwhile if you love Terminator or want to sit down for a while, but it’s not the best attraction for non-English speakers.
This is a fun attraction set in an auditorium, involving POV 3D action (4D if you count the physical effects like shaking chairs) of characters jumping across the rooftops of a historical city and slaying giants. They are speaking Japanese a lot of the time so something is lost there, but it’s still an enjoyable experience.
Perhaps for some people the main concern, more than being unable to understand the language, would be the violent element, with scenes involving blood made even more real by water effects spraying on the audience. Please keep this in mind if you have youngsters in your group.
Similar to Attack on Titan: The Real, this attraction is worth seeing for the special effects even if you can’t understand some parts.
The whole attraction is on a real boat floating through a set, with a performer at the front pretending to do a nice tour of a seaside town before shark-related hell breaks loose.
The performer speaks a lot of Japanese but the gist of what they’re saying is obvious: “Welcome to our quaint tour… oh no, there’s a shark!”, basically. The special effects are good and not too much is lost in translation.
Backdraft is one of the older attractions at USJ and you can kind of tell. There’s a good chunk of talking at the start, followed by a few explosions and bursts of fire. Unless you’re a huge fan of the movie, this isn’t the most thrilling part of the park and especially so when the sizeable Japanese talking element is taken into account.
Possibly the best attraction for special effects and very fun. There’s a little Japanese but not enough to dissuade you from visiting this attraction. The visuals while making a line are in English – there are newsroom sets with mock news posters and funny quotations that are all in English.
Let’s be honest – if you’ve made it all the way to USJ you’re unlikely to miss out on the Harry Potter area. It’s worth visiting this part of the park simply for the crooked, snow-covered buildings leading up to the castle-like school, Hogwarts, which is a hugely impressive building.
The ride itself does have quite a lot of Japanese talking, but you can enjoy the special effects nevertheless. And if you’ve read the books and seen the movies, you’ll probably have little trouble understanding what’s going on!
This attraction is basically a classic log flume with dinosaurs – getting soaked is much more of a concern here than not being able to understand Japanese!
— ユニバーサル・スタジオ・ジャパン公式 (@USJ_Official) January 21, 2015
Based on the Japanese animation Evangelion (エヴァンゲリオン), there is inevitably quite a lot of Japanese with this attraction, which is one of the newer ones in the park. But the real draw is the effects, with virtual reality helmets being worn to give maximum authenticity. If you want to see the latest in VR, regardless of being able to understand everything, this is a good attraction.
This one’s all about the music and the costumes – no need to worry about language!
This is a great attraction for a sunny day – sit back and watch incredible stunts on the park’s glistening lake. Definitely no need to speak Japanese here; stunts like these are universal!
This list covers most of the major attractions, and overall USJ can be enjoyed regardless of whether you can understand Japanese or not. That is especially true of the newer attractions, where the amazing special effects are a good reason for anyone to go!