Universal Studios Japan Planning New Theme Park in Okinawa

Universal Studios Japan 2 H 2014

The new facility may be built on the site of a controversial U.S. military base.

Universal Studios Japan is planning to open a theme park on the southern island of Okinawa, possibly on the site of a U.S. military base, which is due to relocate within the prefecture.

The current Universal Studios Japan park in Osaka has received record numbers of visitors this fiscal year since the opening of the hugely popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The Okinawa park will be based on local themes from the tropical island rather than Hollywood and Japanese movie franchises, said USJ CEO Glenn Gumpel when talking to the media in Osaka.

Okinawa is also attracting record visitor numbers, with more tourists coming from China and other Asian territories than ever before. However, the island still is home to nearly two-thirds of the U.S. military bases in Japan and, despite some strong local opposition, is heavily economically reliant on them.

A new large-scale theme park would be a welcome boost to the local economy, particularly if it was built on the controversial Futenma Marine base, which has been a thorn in the side of various administrations who have attempted to move it from its current location in a densely populated part of the island.

Yoshihide Suga, chief cabinet secretary and government spokesman, hailed the prospect of a new USJ on Okinawa, saying it would bring major benefits to the island.

Rumors of a new theme park have been circulating since early last year, with a local Okinawan newspaper running an article in July that said a $200 million (?25 billion) park would open on the site of the Futenma base, but it didn't specify whether this would be a USJ park. $200 million would be less than half of what USJ spent on the Harry Potter expansion, which is effectively a park of its own in Osaka.

Gumpel didn't announce a time frame, budget or location for the Okinawa park.

USJ also has been looking into the potential for more Universal Studios parks in other Asian countries.

Twitter: @GavinJBlair