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Taking a Closer Look at Universal Studios Japan's Plan to Open Another Theme Park

March 18, 2015, 9:16 PM · The parent company of Universal Studios Japan has made public that it wants to open a second theme park, and USJ Co. CEO Glenn Gumpel talked with reporters about that plan this week. (Here are reports from The Japan Times and The Hollywood Reporter.)

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.

Hogwarts Japan

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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Replies (6)

March 19, 2015 at 6:48 AM · Do you think that they could possibly theme it after Japanese mythology?
March 19, 2015 at 7:55 AM · The difference in comparison to Tokyo Disney Resort is that, the Oriental Company or whatever they are called, is willing to spend the big money to make the park right. USJ Co. isn't willing to spend the money to make a decent park so I am guessing because of that Universal is not willing to let them license the IP.
March 19, 2015 at 9:26 AM · So I'm guessing that's a no then.
March 19, 2015 at 9:36 AM · Besides what's already at the USJ, what would Universal bring to the table? The best IPs are already there, and if they aren't even part of the same resort, there's no reason to involve giving a piece of the revenue to Universal.

Going a little bit off topic. This makes me sad Disney wasn't able to buy Knott's Berry Farm. Disney could of done a similar strategy that USJ is doing. Name change or not, they could of made some changes while keeping the integrity of the park, and have a shuttle service to Disneyland. Instead of building a third park at DLR, Disney should try to buy Knott's again. More resort hotels and a Downtown Disney expansion is a better use of the space than than trying to squeeze in a third park.

March 19, 2015 at 12:05 PM · Disappointing. Why is it that every single Universal studios park seems to have been built on a location with very limited space, unlike disney which has planned for 2 parks at all of their resorts. With the exception of florida they all seem to have had no expectation of ever needing a 2nd gate. But even in orlando they now need more space for a 3rd theme park in the future. Did universal not expect themselves to be nearly as successful as they have become?
Robert I think that would be a good subject for a TPR article.
March 19, 2015 at 3:53 PM · Way to go on completely theming that show building USJ. Really makes for a awe inspiring shot from across the lagoon

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