The hostel was booked, the train tickets bought; the plans were set and my friend J and I were so excited! Then came the news of Vongfong – a category 4 typhoon that was heading straight at Japan. Set to hit a mere week after the last typhoon, Phanfone, but with much more force behind it. We didn’t know what we should do, but we definitely weren’t going to cancel our whole trip over a little rain and wind. We read all the weather reports, we asked all our friends, we summoned as much positive energy as we could muster, and we headed off on the Kintetsu to Osaka.
Once in Osaka we thought we might have a clearer idea of when exactly the typhoon would hit, and how much of an interruption it would cause. Unfortunately the specifics were still uncertain; although we did get many a pitying look when discussing our plans to go to Universal Studios for two days, during which time the typhoon was predicted to be making its way through that part of Japan. Despite all the warnings we received, we were determined that our trip would go ahead as planned, or at least as close to it as could be managed, given the unpredictable and difficult circumstances.
Our first day in the city was just that – a day in the city to enjoy the sites, do a little shopping, and eat a little takoyaki. We had four days and had decided far in advance that when going to USJ we wanted to arrive as early as possible to beat the crowds; it really didn’t make sense to go on the Sunday. And so, that night we set our alarms for the crack of dawn, attempted some shut-eye, and waited to see what wanton weather the morrow would bring.
Visiting Universal Studios during a typhoon is an experience I highly recommend everyone undertake, if the opportunity presents itself. Granted, it was rather wet later in the day; but the morning before the storm hit was glorious! The calm before the storm gave us the gift of short lines, empty restaurants, and speedy shopping. We arrived at the park at around 9:30, and by 2:30 had managed to ride Space Fantasy, twice, Spiderman once, get our socks scared off at the Halloween-only Chucky attraction, view the somewhat dull Terminator show, and shoot our way out of a maze of zombie infested warehouses in Biohazard The Real 2. Had my companion been a little more fond of the horror attractions I would have liked to experience Jason’s Blood Diner, too – I heard later that it’s even scarier than Chucky – but going to Terminator in between gave our fast-beating hearts a break while we watched amazed spectators wave their arms in front of them excitedly at the 3D effects, which these days have become the norm for most of us.
By the time we had finished being mercilessly slaughtered by a wave of the undead, the rain and wind had arrived. We ducked into the nearest shop, stowed our next to useless umbrellas, and bought a couple of the cheaper ponchos. The vast majority of the parks visitors that day were decked out in either Elmo or Snoopy ponchos, but after we stopped choking on disbelief at the exorbitant price (¥1700!!) we elected to go instead for the ¥400 ride ponchos. They did the trick and we were able continue our typhoon adventures while only our forearms, faces and legs got drenched.
Next we decided it would be a good idea to check out where we needed to go the following day in order to get our timed entry Harry Potter tickets, but it was nowhere to be found! We found out that because of the typhoon there was no timed entry that day, so the area was closed. An announcement was put out that the park would close at 5pm because of the storm that was already very much upon us, so we did what any Potterheads would do: we said to hell with the storm, stuff the fact that the trains wouldn’t be running much longer, and ran through the rain into The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Magical. Breathtaking. Sugoi. We were in HP nerd heaven. We knew we wouldn’t have time to go on either of the rides, so we spent time wandering through the shops that didn’t have lines, deciding on everything we wanted to buy the next day (conveniently, or scarily, the next day was Pay Day!!).
Due to luck, a mad dash, and good timing, we were able to spend the majority of the following day exploring Hogsmeade and living out all our childhood fantasies. The timed ticket area is worth straining your leg muscles to get to quickly, as everyone who didn’t have either the forethought or the funds to buy express passes (which include timed entry into HP as well as a queue-jumping ticket for the Forbidden Journey) is heading for the same few machines that print out those magical passes to take you through to another world. Each studio pass grants you one timed entry ticket into Harry Potter World, but they are limited. Once each time slot has run out, the sorry saps that didn’t get there early enough will be left in standby. Eventually, the timed entry does stop; but as popularity for TWWoHP doesn’t seem to have diminished all that much in the 7 or 8 months it’s been open, you could be waiting right up until almost closing time for a chance to get a glimpse into the wizarding village of Hogsmeade.
Ah, Hogsmeade. With its snow-covered buildings and familiar shop names, it is truly like it fell off the page. Filch’s Emporium, located at the end of the Forbidden Journey ride, seemed to have the largest variety of unique goods, but truth be told you’d be mad not to go into each and every shop just for the experience of the thing. The range of souvenirs available is quite remarkable, and it was a certifiable nightmare trying to narrow it down enough that I could still hope to eat for the rest of the month.
These are the things I finally decided upon:
An adorable little Monster Book of Monsters that has a cord which you pull out and it vibrates
A notebook dressed in a duffel coat and a scarf and tie in Ravenclaw colours which I eventually plan to fill with photos from my trips to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (it was the only way I could justify spending so much on a notebook, however gorgeously covered)
A gorgeous set of illustrated cards that can be used to play pairs and other variations
A silently screaming key ring with a moving image of the Sirius Black – HAVE YOU SEEN THIS WIZARD poster (not pictured, as it’s currently attached to my bag)
Several chocolate frogs, which it turns out were made right here in Nagoya! Very delicious, and the cards are awesome. I definitely plan on buying one or two more next time I go (which is less than a week away, OMG!!)
I also bought several gifts for family and friends back home. It is both a blessing and a curse that I don’t have anyone back in Tas that shares quite my level of enthusiasm for all things Harry Potter. It would be nice to have more people to share in my passion, but I may find my wallet considerably lighter after a trip to USJ if I did.
Butterbeer, pumpkin juice, chocolate frogs… The Forbidden Journey Ride… The Triwizard Spirit Rally… I could go on all day but, for all those of you whom are still hoping to one day receive your Hogwarts letter, I urge you to make the trip. It is the stuff dreams are made of.
1 Day Studio Pass – ¥7,200
2 Day Studio Pass – ¥12,110
Universal Express Pass 7 – ¥5,900~
Universal Express Pass 5 – ¥4,700~