TOKYO -- Universal Studios Japan continued to ramp up its allure for consumers in the year ended in March, again outshining archrival Tokyo Disney Resort in attendance growth.
Visitors to TDR, the nation's biggest amusement complex by attendance, which is operated by Oriental Land in Urayasu, Chiba Prefecture, declined for a second straight year, while USJ in Osaka, Disney's principal rival, notched up another record-breaking figure.
TDR's performance was apparently hurt by hikes in ticket prices in April last year. Meanwhile, USJ raised its appeal by spending heavily on new attractions.
The annual attendance figure for TDR dipped 0.6% in fiscal 2016 from the previous year to 30 million. In the first half of the fiscal year (April-September), the number of people who passed through the gates into the "land of dreams" fell 0.3% from the year-earlier period due partly to several typhoons that affected the Tokyo metropolitan area.
In the second half, attendance slid 0.9% despite the popularity of a limited-time-only event featuring the 2013 Disney animated film "Frozen," held in the first three months of this year.
TDR raised the price of an adult one-day ticket by 500 yen ($4.52) in April 2016. The price hike may have made a dent in the amusement complex's power to draw crowds.
But analysts say another factor behind the decline is worsening congestion, which has caused increases in waiting times for many popular attractions. A growing number of visitors to TDR are complaining of long waits and crowded facilities at the theme park.
Some point out that many repeat visitors are now returning less frequently than before.
TDR's attendance peaked in 2014. Its growth was driven by a series of popular new events and rising numbers of foreign visitors.
But the operator of the complex failed to make timely responses to the faster-than-expected growth in attendance, allowing congestion to increase.
TDR's investment to expand facilities has not been keeping up with the pace of attendance growth. It has also been struggling with the effects of an increasingly serious labor shortage in Japan which has forced the operator to raise hourly wages for its staffers.
To revitalize its magic touch, TDR plans to shell out some 250 billion yen by 2020, not just to introduce new attractions but also to improve facilities.
The operator will use 30 billion yen of its planned annual capital investment of 50 billion yen to refurbish its facilities for better visitor experiences. Money will be spent, for instance, to install outdoor facilities to protect visitors from summer heat and winter cold. Electric toilet seats with warm water spray features will also be installed.
TDR's operator sees investment in more comfortable and convenient facilities as vital for attracting elderly consumers amid the rapid aging of the nation's population.
Meanwhile, attendance at USJ picked up 5% to 14.6 million visitors in fiscal 2016 for a third consecutive year of growth.
The Flying Dinosaur, a Jurassic Park-themed flying roller coaster introduced in March last year, has proved a powerful new draw.
The Wizard World of Harry Potter, which opened in 2014, has continued to serve as a powerful magnet of tourists including foreign visitors to Japan.
USJ has managed to continue its brisk attendance growth by expanding the scope of its attractions beyond the universe of Hollywood movies.
It has rolled out events featuring characters of popular manga series along with regular live performances by AKB48, a popular Japanese girl group.
Japan's second most visited theme park plans to offer more new events in 2017.
But USJ is also facing the challenge of justifying higher entrance fees. It raised ticket prices in February this year, making them costlier than the charges at TDR.
Its future performance will hinge on whether it can continue offering new services and attractions that really make visitors happy.