But don't start imagining an "Islands of Adventure Japan" just yet.
Since its opening in 2001, Universal Studios Japan has grown to be Universal's most popular theme park, attracting more than 10 million visitors a year, according to the TEA/AECOM annual attendance report. (It's the most popular non-Disney theme park in the world.) With The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opening at the park last summer, Universal Studios Japan is enjoying all-time record attendance, leaving its owner ready to expand to take advantage of this growing demand for theme park entertainment. Note that Universal Studios Japan is owned by USJ Co., a Japanese company, and uses the Universal Studios name and brands under license from Comcast-owned NBCUniversal.
But USJ's path toward expansion isn't as simple as the ones followed by other multi-park resorts, in Orlando, Southern California, Paris, and even Tokyo. First, a second park from USJ won't be built adjacent to its existing park in Osaka. There simply isn't room for another park on the site, no matter how creatively designers try to fit one there. Gumpel told reporters that USJ is looking at a site in Okinawa, possibly on the site of a soon-to-be-vacated U.S. Marine base.
So not only won't the park be part of the Universal Studios Japan resort, it might not even be a Universal Studios-branded theme park. Gumpel told reporters that the park will not be based on movies or television properties, and an initial budget for the park was reported to be in the range of US$200 million.
That is nothing for a Universal-caliber theme park. Universal Studios Japan's Wizarding World of Harry Potter alone has been said to have cost twice that. At this budget level, we're looking at an iron park with no theming, or one whose relatively simple attractions are based on characters and stories in the public domain.
A park like that might be owned by USJ Co. and might even be packaged with Universal Studios Japan for multi-day tickets and annual passes. But it won't be anything like what theme park fans have come to expect from Universal-branded theme parks, which rely heavily on established, contemporary IP [intellectual property] for themes and narratives driving their attractions.
So if you have visions of Universal building its version of "DisneySea," following the plan that rival Tokyo Disneyland did when it expanded to a second gate, stop now. From all that USJ is saying about its plan, fans should expect something more like a regional amusement park, aimed at locals, rather than another park that will command attention from theme park fans around the world.
Update: Just to bring home the point, a Universal official in Orlando emailed me, "Universal Parks & Resorts is not involved with this project in any way... It will not be a Universal theme park and will not be named or branded as such. It will not contain any Universal rides, shows or attractions."
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