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Universal Studios Comes to Japan

March 9, 2001
From now on the Japanese will be able to meet Hollywood without going all the way to America. (Jiji)

The popular American theme park Universal Studios is getting ready to open its first overseas location. Universal Studios Japan, now under construction, will open in Osaka on March 31, 2001. It will be the first large theme park to open in Japan since Tokyo Disneyland (1983). Universal Studios offers a variety of shows and rides that give visitors a unique firsthand experience of worldwide blockbuster films from past years, such as Jaws and Jurassic Park. The original Universal Studios in California is a major tourist attraction. The main draw of Universal Studios Japan, occupying 140 acres, is its 18 sets where scenes from famous movies are reenacted. Advance ticket sales have been brisk, fueling hopes that the theme park will boost the local economy.

Great Expectations as a Tourist Draw
Although Japan's economic slump has brought hard times to many of the country's theme parks, most people feel that Universal Studios Japan is in a class by itself, offering attractions far above and beyond typical theme-park fare. There is JAWS, in which a giant shark bursts through the water's surface and bares its razor-sharp teeth in front of a tour boat full of passengers. There is the dinosaur island of Jurassic Park--The Ride, where fantastical, computer-controlled prehistoric beasts appear one after another. And there is TERMINATOR 2:3D, a 3D movie show in which the invincible hero comes out of the screen and appears onstage. In addition to these rides and shows--also offered by the U.S. Universal Studios, where they are very popular--the creators of Universal Studios Japan are planning to offer original rides and shows.

Of the park's 18 attractions, five are original to Japan. At Universal Studios Motion Picture Magic, for example, the latest production technology and other movie-making magic is presented on screen through the story of the Universal Studios movie company. Commentary is by Steven Spielberg, who reveals some of the secrets of movie making. Animation Celebration, meanwhile, features some of Universal Studios' popular cartoon characters appearing on a 3-D screen, giving visitors the sensation of experiencing high-tech Hollywood special effects for real. At night, Hollywood Magic--a spectacular laser, water, and fireworks show--lights up the lake in the center of USJ.

Universal Studios Japan is expected to draw tourists not only from within Japan but from other Asian countries as well. During its first fiscal year of operation, the park will draw an estimated 8 million visitors. According to a travel agency that deals with school trips, many schools have changed their class trip destinations from their usual places to Osaka for the express purpose of visiting Universal Studios Japan. According to one preliminary calculation, the theme park will inject some 277 billion yen (2.41 billion U.S. dollars at 115 yen to the dollar), including transportation and lodging fees, into the economy during its first year of operation.

Convenient Access
The gateway to Universal Studios Japan is Universal City Station on the JR Sakurajima railroad line. This station is closer to the park than the nearest subway or private railway stations, and about 40% of all visitors are expected to use Universal City Station. The biggest source of concern for local people is the expected increase in crowds on the trains, but a spokesperson for the station confidently says, "We can handle it." To help generate a buzz around the theme park, Universal City Station's management is creating a distinctive environment on the trains and in the station by decorating the trains with stickers depicting movie characters, and so on.

The Tourism Department of Osaka City's Economic Affairs Bureau is using the opening of the new theme park as an opportunity to promote the city's previously existing attractions as well. The department plans to issue single-day excursion passes covering subway travel and admission to landmarks such as Osaka Castle and Tsutenkaku tower, as well as set up a tourist information center by Universal City Station. Some locals are showing an interest not only in attracting tourists to Osaka, but also in using the cinematic element to try to entice companies to move to the area. The Osaka Industrial Association is spreading the word that it wants to use the opening of Universal Studios Japan to attract film- and video-related venture firms to the area.

As a true theme park of the twenty-first century, Universal Studios Japan will have water-saving measures in place and will enthusiastically implement trash recycling and other environmental programs. Not only in terms of crowd-drawing power but also in terms of environmental soundness, Universal Studios Japan is hoped to serve as a model for sustainable theme parks of the future.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2001 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.