Jean-Jacques* had tickets to a concert in Osaka, and asked if I wanted to come along. Not to the concert, no, punk bands are not for me. But while he was there, he wanted to go to Universal Studios to see the new Super Mario-themed area, and I thought that would be pretty fun. Besides, I don’t turn down a trip on the shinkansen and two nights of unlimited seggs either, so I went along.
I had never been to Osaka except for transfers, so we first visited the famous Glico man on Dotonbori and then ate classic takoyaki in an underground shopping street. At least, Jean-Jacques ate six-and-a-half of seven, me the rest. The stomach cramps that plagued me until recently turned out to be caused by egg, so I am sparing with that these days. Fortunately, they also had fried soba noodles.
From the underground mall, which was linked to a subway station, we traveled on to our accommodations. I had booked a hotel in Universal City, the competitor’s Disney Village. Sorry to all Universal fans, but I knew only Disney until last week, so everything in the Universal universe will be measured against a Disney yardstick. But fear not, I can tell you in advance that that comparison is not necessarily negative.
In the evening, Jean-Jacques went to his concert, and I decided to visit a thrift store in a residential area between Osaka and Kobe. I found three mini-Starbucks cups there, and on the way back I passed a little tunnel that was listed on the map as a tourist attraction. Why? Well…
An Amish in Amity
The next day we visited the park. Jean-Jacques had done his research and wanted to be in the park by opening time, so he could quickly reserve admission tickets for the Mario section in his app. Yes, the themed section is so popular that you have to make separate reservations for it. The park opened at 9:00, and we had Mario passes for 10:00. While we waited, we walked around Hogwarts, Amity Island (the village from Jaws) and a classic 1920s Hollywood street. Or ’30s. I honestly have no idea.
“This attraction is from Spider-man! Have you seen that movie? Waterworld? Beetlejuice? The minions?” Jean-Jacques, great movie buff, pointed out details to me left and right. Names of streets, toilets and stores referred to movies and characters, all of which I had never heard of. “You must think of me a little like Amish, I guess. I don’t know anything. Sorry.” It’s really true. This autistic person never watches movies, because movies are overwhelming. Even of Harry Potter I know nothing. The only movie I knew was Jurassic Park. They had a roller coaster of that.
Soon it was 10:00 and we made our way toward Marioland. (The area is actually called Super Nintendo World, but that’s quite a mouthful, and for now they only have Mario. I did hear that they are also building a Donkey Kong thing). As we stood in line for Jean-Jacques’ special wristband, which allows you to collect coins and keys and you know what (that’s an extra almost 40 euros, thank you! *insert Mario coin sound*), it started to rain. All the Japanese put up their umbrellas, though some also had funky Mario ponchos. I myself had brought my convenience store poncho that I had bought for the Pokémon fest last summer. Like a crisp plastic bag, I trudged inside.
Inside? Well, actually, most of Super Nintendo World is outside. But you enter through one of those green tubes and then you suddenly find yourself in a sort of Sarlacc pit of square shapes and pling plong and tunes and characters and hundreds of Japanese and weeaboos and combinations of both who poke your eyes out with the tips of their umbrellas, especially if you’re as tall as me.
Jean-Jacques could tap those square cubes with his bracelet, which gave him digital coins to collect in his app. There were mini-games, where you had to turn a lever, for example, which caused a Goomba to fly backwards. With this you then won a key. With three keys, you could go to Bowser Castle. For all these things there were queues, which hindered the walking route quite a bit. The theme area has two rides, for which the waiting time was up to two hours. Before getting into these, we wanted to go to the restroom. We struggled down the stairs through a sea of umbrellas, deeper into the Sarlacc pit, looking for toilet signs among the stimuli. Once in the loo, in a wet plastic poncho and still overstimulated by the noise coming from all sides, I realized: this is not possible. I can’t do this. I have to get out of here.
It happens regularly that I feel like a bit of a fake autistic. When I am having a good time, traveling, being successful in my work and feeling like the queen with my Japanese company and apartment, I can already hear the voices of people on the Internet who have taken up residence in my brain for free, yelling: “Pfff! That’s not autism, is it? You’re just taking advantage of this diagnosis! What a drama queen!” But then comes a moment like the one in the Mario pit, when another voice takes over: “Pfff, don’t be so autistic! Have a good time for once! What a drama queen!”
I’ve always been bad with such situations, and in previous relationships it regularly led to fights and misery. But now I know about my autism, so I can raise the alarm reasonably early. And I have written a book about it, so Jean-Jacques also knows what’s happening. Of course, I still felt tremendously guilty when I indicated that I wanted to leave, but Jean-Jacques said, “You know what? We’ll go out now, and we’ll come back later. I can reserve new time slots in the app, and then hopefully it won’t rain anymore, so I can take better pictures then, too.”
We left the hellhole, found a place to sit, and I ate a pizza, which made me feel better. I now know that if reducing stimuli is not an option, it can help to up the stimulus processing capacity. Food can help with that. After this, we visited some of the other attractions in the park. Spider-man, which was kind of like Ratatouille in terms of the ride system, but a tad more intense. Jaws, which is a kind of Jungle Cruise where a fiercely acting cast member slash boat driver shoots rather asynchronously at an attacking shark. Waterworld, which is a kind of Moteurs, Action! but on water. And a bizarre show called Monsters Live Rock and Roll, in which Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, Beetlejuice and a few other characters sing familiar pop songs in a graveyard, because of…? Reasons, I guess.
Around four it had stopped raining. Without umbrellas in my eyes and that clammy, creaky poncho, the stimuli level might just be doable, so we decided to head back to Marioland. But oh-oh… Jean-Jacques had made a mistake. There may have been new time slots in the app, but when he wanted to click on them, it said we couldn’t, because we had already used our reservation for the day. I saw Jean-Jacques turn pale. He hadn’t spent five minutes playing with his expensive bracelet, hadn’t taken a picture, hadn’t seen the inside of an attraction and now we wouldn’t be allowed in! Fuck!
I felt even more guilty than before, but I didn’t want to just give up either. “Let’s go to the entrance,” I said, “and then explain to that staff that I wasn’t feeling well. Here, show them this!” I pointed to my Help Mark, the medical badge I have hanging on my backpack, to show that I have an invisible disability. 99% of the time I feel like a poser, a faker, because how bad is that autism anyway, and don’t you just use that thing to sit comfortably on the train? But then something like this happens, and I’m glad I have something to “prove” my story.
Jean-Jacques pointed to my Help Mark, and begged the staff to let us back in. “Just a moment,” the girl said, then consulted over her walkie-talkie. “It’s okay for now, but next time, don’t do it again!” Okay, we won’t.
It was still overwhelming, but it was indeed more tolerable without rain. We decided to grab the single riders line for the Mario Kart attraction, where you have to shoot with 3D glasses on like in Toy Story Mania. As a result, we only stood in line for one hour, instead of two. We both ended up in a different kart, but at the same time, so we saved an hour. After collecting three keys and Jean-Jacques winning the final battle against Bowser, we decided to head for the exit. We ate a deliciously unhealthy meal at Hard Rock Cafe and then caught the train and shinkansen to Tokyo. Since we arrived so late, we also slept in a hotel that night. The next day, I picked up Charlotte.
Although Super Nintendo World was pretty intense, overall I found Universal Studios exceeded my expectations. Although they don’t, like Disney, hide the outside world, allowing you to see a giant bridge with highway from the park, I found the park quite immersive, with high-quality scenery and attractions. Several times I even thought: Gee, if only they had done this to Walt Disney Studios in Paris, instead of those cardboard facades everywhere. The food was good and the souvenirs very popular, which sometimes led to unusual scenes – for example, a group of Japanese people suddenly walked by in Harry Potter garb, topped off with large Mario and Luigi caps. The hotels near the park, while not owned by Universal itself, were within walking distance and very fancy, clean and good. The train station provides a quick connection to downtown Osaka. In short: highly recommended. If you like stimuli.
* Who is Jean-Jacques, you ask? Explanation here. (Dutch only, sorry!)