USJ (Universal Studios Japan) took the world by surprise by announcing an expansion to its Super Nintendo World area. Super Nintendo World opened in early 2021 to much fanfare, and less than one year after its opening, USJ announced that they would construct a Donkey Kong land adjacent to Super Mario Bros one. The area is scheduled to open in 2024, just in time for the Expo 2025.
Osaka, just like Tokyo prior to the Olympics, has been upgrading areas and facilities in preparation for the world expo, which is expected to bring in an astronomical number of visitors. The city has historically had a very small presence of luxury hotels, but recently names like Conrad and W Hotel have joined the Ritz Carlton, St. Regis, and Imperial Hotel, with a Waldorf Astoria and Four Seasons set to open as well. As such, USJ’s news makes perfect sense as the city prepares for what could be a very important year in terms of tourism. However, the announcement came out of nowhere, and that mixed with the speed with which they expect to complete the project surprised people across Japan and the world.
For comparison, The Oriental Land Company had announced an expansion in DisneySea in 2015, and in 2018 announced the name of the port and the attractions it would include for a planned opening date in 2023. Those are many years of planning. The news of the Donkey Kong expansion at USJ came just eight months after the opening of Super Nintendo World, and it’s expected to open just three years after the announcement. No bureaucracy, no red tapes, no years of speculations. USJ jumped all that and gave the world one of the biggest theme park announcements in recent years.
The news can surely put some pressure on The Oriental Land Company, which owns the Tokyo Disney Resort. Historically, Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea have been more popular and successful than USJ. However, USJ was finally able to overtake DisneySea in terms of number of visitors in 2015 after the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Though DisneySea was eventually able to surpass USJ once again in 2018. With the popularity of Super Nintendo World and the upcoming Donkey Kong expansion, USJ could once again overtake what many consider to be the best theme park in the world.
To its advantage, though, The Oriental Land Company always invests a lot of money on its projects. Enchanted Tale of Beauty and the Beast, which opened in late 2020 at Tokyo Disneyland, has been a huge success; and the upcoming Fantasy Springs at DisneySea is the most expensive theme park expansion in history. So it’s not like USJ is beating The Oriental Land Company in terms of projects, it simply is keeping The Oriental Land Company on its toes, giving the Tokyo Disney Resort good competition (and competition among companies is always good for customers). With the Donkey Kong land set to open one year after Fantasy Springs, the Oriental Land Company will surely hope the expansion does not steal part of Fantasy Springs’ thunder.
If that was not enough, just one week after announcing the Donkey Kong expansion, USJ also announced a partnership with The Pokemon Company. The partnership will bring Pokemon-themed attractions to USJ, the first one opening in 2022. The date indicates that the first attraction will be very different from Super Nintendo World, meaning it won’t be an area or land expansion. Instead, it seems like the Pokemon attractions, or at least the first ones, will be similar to the 4D Attack on Titan one. Still, after securing one of the most popular Japanese names with the addition of Nintendo and its characters, partnering with yet another huge name guarantees interest in the park and its future success.
Pokemon is, without a doubt, one of the most beloved Japanese brands domestically and abroad; but despite its popularity, Pokemon had yet to appear in one of the world’s biggest theme parks until now.
Just how successful can Pokemon’s pull be? In 2005 Pokemon had a theme park in Japan properly named Pokemon The Park 20025. The temporary theme park was open from March to September 2005 in Aichi, and during the busiest days people had to wait up to eight hours just to enter a Pokemon safari attraction. The park operated using repurposed rides and games and altering them to incorporate Pokemon themes. The park brought in over four million visitors during that short period, two million more than LEGOLAND Japan, also in Nagoya, sees annually. With that in mind, we can expect the partnership between USJ and Pokemon to be a gigantic success.