During a difficult year for Muggles, good news for Harry Potter fans arrived in August 2020 as Warner Bros., Studio Tours and Warner Bros. Japan signed a deal to bring the Warner Bros. Studio Tour Tokyo – the Making of Harry Potter in the Japanese capital.
The nearly 300,000 square foot attraction, which will be based on part of the grounds of the former Toshimaen Amusement Park in Nerima-Ku, Tokyo, will feature authentic recreations of Harry Potter film sets, including the Great Hall inside Hogwarts, the Forbidden Forest and Diagon Alley.
Studio Tour Tokyo – which will open in 2023 – will showcase original costumes and props and invite visitors to experience scenes from the films firsthand. It will also feature a landscaped open space just outside the entrance to the Tower with bespoke sculptures of characters from the films, which will be accessible to local residents and visitors.
The Tokyo Studio Tour follows the hugely successful Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – the Making of Harry Potter, which has welcomed more than 14 million visitors since its opening in 2012 and the first Harry Potter attraction in Japan, in Osaka. With this level of success, it was perhaps inevitable that the company would open a Harry Potter tour in the Japanese capital, and after extensive research, the Toshimaen site just outside of Tokyo was chosen. “The intense Harry Potter fandom in Japan and the location of Tokyo with such a high population of people who love to engage with IP and have days outside made it a really strong place for us,” said Sarah Roots, Executive Vice President, Warner Bros Studio Tours & Retail, speaking via video link.
“We’ll take the essence of Studio Tour London and build on it by using the lessons we’ve learned to create something even more amazing in Japan,” she says.
Roots joined Warner Bros in 2010 in the early planning stages of the Warner Bros Studio Tour London and led the project from design and build to opening, operation and growth. “It’s been a life-changing, all-consuming and very special decade,” she tells me, with highlights such as the Royal Inauguration by The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, a visit from JK Rowling, “incredible connections and comments” from Harry Potter fans around the world and a major studio expansion in 2019, with the launch of the Gringotts Wizarding Bank film set and a new 17,000 square foot lobby and cafe.
A new experience
While the Tokyo Studio Tour will keep the essence of the London Tour, there will be several differences, Roots tells me.
The London Tour is based at Leavesden Studios in Hertfordshire, where the eight Harry Potter films were filmed, and features original sets, props and costumes from the films. In Japan, the sets will be authentic replicas of the originals and this will allow a little more freedom when designing the attraction.
“All the favorites will be there – The Great Hall, Dumbledore’s Office, the Forbidden Forest – but we have the flexibility to make changes,” Roots explains. “We have the benefit of a brand new building in Japan and it’s bigger, so we’ll be able to create an improved Forbidden Forest, for example. ”
The fact that the sets are made from scratch also means that they can be designed in a slightly different way, she adds.
“We will be reproducing the sets with the original filmmakers – we will use the same authentic processes for Japan, but the materials may be slightly different. The fact that the London Studio Tour sets are original is fantastic, but they are very delicate because they were made for the set and not for a tourist attraction. It is possible to make them more sustainable, which would allow visitors to have better access to them.
There will be other small changes to the Tokyo tour. “The Japanese love the photo ops, interactive activities and participation, and we will add a lot of interactivity and engagement to this tour,” Roots said. The Japanese tour will also benefit from the lessons learned at Leavesden, with some adjustments made in terms of the order and spacing of attractions and the F&B offering.
“When I joined Warner Bros., the plan for the F&B at the London Studio Tour was for a little wagon on wheels in the back lot. I knew that wouldn’t be enough, so we set up a kiosk and then later a permanent building was added, then enlarged, then covered. What we now know is that halfway through the experience, people are hungry and tired and want to sit down and have something to eat and to drink.
The attraction is part of the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s plans to develop a new public park on land that includes Toshimaen Amusement Park, which closed in August 2020.
“We’re really excited about this site – it’s a fantastic place and it’s lovely,” says Roots. “It is a site that has already established itself as a destination for residents, since it previously housed an amusement park. It’s slightly different from the Leavesden site – it will still look like a studio but it’s very green, with a communal park around. There will be a beautiful softness and calm.
In early 2020, things were looking incredibly positive for Roots and his team.
“We were doing so well as a company,” she says. “We had a brilliant year in 2019; we opened our new extension, we broke our own records, with over two million visitors and then, bang. Everything changed.”
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Warner Bros. closed the Warner Bros. Studio Tour Hollywood on Thursday, March 12, followed by the London Studio Tour on Monday, March 16.
The weeks and months that followed saw the team managing staff and working with time off programs, paying off several months of tickets in advance, and preparing to reopen safely. The shutdown also gave the company a chance to move forward with future projects, including the development of Tokyo, Roots said. “The shutdown did not slow this project down – on the contrary, it only increased attention to it. ”
When UK attractions were allowed to reopen after Lockdown 1, they had to adapt quickly to selling timed tickets in advance, which Studio Tour London had been doing from day one.
“When we launched, we were probably the only attraction in the UK to sell all of our slots via a timed ticket office; that was one of the peculiarities of the way we operate, ”says Roots. “We have this great working model of visitors coming and going all day, all pre-booked. This is one of the advantages that makes our customer service so consistent.
While the restrictions and blockages have been a blow, there have been some unexpected positives, says Roots. When the London Studio Tour reopened in August, it was operating at around a third of its usual capacity, providing a unique experience for visitors.
“It was a VIP experience – you had incredible access to the settings and the photography opportunities,” she says. “It feels like an exclusive tour. We always pride ourselves on our customer service and staff, but there’s something about that kind of approach that I think we and other attractions could push forward.
What could that look like, I ask. “We pride ourselves on our highly rated experience and value for money,” she says. “There are more and more opportunities to integrate more special features and access behind the scenes in the daily tour, with additional tailor-made options and tours. I’m looking to find ways to capture some of the special and relaxed atmosphere of this time until touring the future.
Harry Potter Store NYC
Going forward, 2021 will see the opening of the world’s first official Harry Potter flagship store in New York City.
Located next to the Flatiron Building at 935 Broadway, the 20,000 square foot store will house the largest collection of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts products in the world.
“We’ve taken everything we do right about the tourist attraction world and applied it to retail,” Roots says. “The store will be highly experiential with a lot of engagement and interactivity, differentiated products and high levels of customer service. It should be a destination experience in its own right.
Warner Bros is working with London-based design agency Household on the design of the store. “The level of store theme and design is going to be a real eye opener for people,” says Roots.
When I ask Roots to recap the decade since joining Warner Bros., she shares several highlights, but it’s clear that she is firmly focused on the future.
“It was devouring, and it still is; there is always something new and exciting happening, ”she says. “It kept me motivated, focused and dynamic. “