By Natsumi Mizumoto Kyodo News Many Kansai residents are counting on Universal Studios Japan to help revive Osaka’s stagnant economy, but the higher the expectations, the greater the looming sense of anxiety as its launch next Saturday draws closer.

“I’m wondering if information is sufficient” in areas besides the western Japan region, which is naturally enthusiastic about USJ,” said Junko Sanada of the JTB travel agency.

The Osaka municipal government is the largest shareholder in the venture, owning 25 percent of USJ Co., the park’s operator. Universal Studios Inc. of the United States holds a 24 percent stake, while Japanese firms such as Sumitomo Metal Industries Ltd., Sumitomo Corp. and Hitachi Zosen Corp. have minor stakes.

The local government sounded upbeat two years ago when it estimated the 170 billion yen project would inject 857.6 billion yen into the local economy and generate 77,200 jobs per year.

The government also promised that the Hollywood movie theme park, featuring state-of-the-art technology, would help lure high-tech and multimedia companies to the city to counter its high joblessness. That would also enhance Osaka’s bid to host the 2008 Olympic Games, by improving its image.

However, local government official Shoko Tsuyama said the early figures are a little exaggerated since the analysis covers the whole of the city’s 156.2-hectare bay area development plan, with the 54-hectare Universal Studios park at its center.

A majority of projects planned for the bayside site, formerly a steel and shipbuilding yard, have yet to be completed, including two USJ-associated hotels scheduled to open in July and an office building to accommodate NTT West Corp.’s research facility.

In addition, sports facilities being constructed on a landfill island in the bay off Konohana Ward, where USJ is located, may be delayed if the city’s bid to host the Olympics fails. The final decision by Olympic officials is scheduled for July.

Anxieties started to spread when Phoenix Resort Ltd., operator of the Seagaia resort complex in Miyazaki Prefecture, went belly-up in February. Phoenix Resort was jointly established in December 1998 by the Miyazaki prefectural government and Miyazaki city, along with 11 private companies. However, USJ executives have downplayed such concerns.

USJ Vice President Robert Gault said the park has taken the best and most exciting attractions from Universal Studios’ parks in Hollywood and Orlando, Fla., such as Jurassic Park — the Ride, E.T. Adventure and Terminator 2: 3D.

Steven Spielberg, director of Jurassic Park, E.T. and other blockbuster films, served as a consultant for USJ. “It is fortunate for the city of Osaka and people in Japan because the idea that something needed to be improved in Orlando was put in,” Spielberg said in a recent interview with Kyodo News.

There are also new attractions specifically designed for USJ — two featuring the cartoon beagle Snoopy and another with Woody Woodpecker.

It is true that many business officials in Osaka expect the first Universal Studios theme park outside the U.S. to be a savior for the dismal economy. “Based on past results at Tokyo Disneyland and those seen in Universal Studios parks in the U.S., USJ is expected to draw many visitors and various business effects,” said Osaka city’s Tsuyama.

According to government data, Tokyo Disneyland stands out among theme parks in Japan in terms of admissions. It boasted 17.46 million visitors in fiscal 1998, when Seagaia had a mere 970,000 and all others combined attracted less than 6 million.

Rivaling the successful Disney park launched in 1983, the smaller USJ forecasts 8 million visitors per year, of which an ambitious 5 percent is expected from various other Asian countries, compared with Tokyo Disneyland’s nearly 3 percent, park officials said.

Yasuhiro Machida, in charge of USJ overseas marketing, said a recent business trip through Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea proved successful. “I think the park’s excitement will be appealing in these countries and regions, where people are known to be fond of exciting things,” he said.

In Japan, JTB has sold as many as 540,000 advance tickets for USJ, almost half its yearly target. The overall target is considered achievable since there are more than 30 million residents within a one-day trip of the new park, officials said.

Whether USJ will be able to attract repeat visitors is another key point. With this in mind, the park’s management company is planning to build a new attraction every few years, adding to the 18 rides and shows currently set up.

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