I've always been a fan of pretty much anything to do with gaming. PC, NES, Playstation, you name it. Although my childhood was filled with Mario, Kirby, Zelda, Metroid and all other things Nintendo, never in my life did I ever expect to get a text from a friend asking if I wanted to ride through the streets of Tokyo on a go-kart dressed up like a Mario character. Real life Mario Kart?! My mind is still trying to grasp the idea that yes, this did indeed happen.
With an onigiri hat, no less :D
So, how is this even remotely do-able in a place with as many rules and regulations as Tokyo? Enter MariCar. Located in Shinagawa, the company exists for the sole purpose of leading costumed go-kart tours through high-traffic areas like the Shibuya crossing, Roppongi, Odaiba, and near the Tokyo tower. The group I went with decided to go with a ¥6000 per person (with a promised review on Facebook), 2 hour tour. To our pleasant surprise, the tour actually ended up going well past the two hour time limit (at no extra charge). The fee includes costume rental, go-kart rental, gas costs, driving guides who go with your group, accident insurance, a consumption tax, and a group picture printed for you at the end. So, pretty much everything. They will even AirDrop over the pictures that they take of your group if you have an iPhone! Although some of the karts are equipped with speakers for music, none of them seemed to be working while we were there, but they had a portable speaker with a clip that you could rent for a mere ¥500 (be sure to being an AUX cable!). It was worth it, as I had already made a playlist on Spotify for the trip (that you can check out here if interested).
Walking to the karts...
After getting dressed and walking over to the area where the karts are kept, you are given a short demonstration on how the karts function. They are very, very simple, and easily allow you to reach speeds of 60km/h (the speed limit in most places you will drive). Nobody in our group had any trouble with the controls. My kart in particular was having some difficulty getting started, and soon it died, but they quickly swapped it out with another one, and our group was ready to hit the streets. First stop, Tokyo Tower!
Nothing could prepare me for the feeling of awe that you get when you turn onto a street, and right in the middle of your view straight ahead is the monolithic Tokyo Tower. We approached it close to dusk, and the views on our day were particularly beautiful. The guides help your group park on the side of the road close to the Tower and let you get out to take pictures with the group. After snapping a few shots and stretching your legs, it's on to Roppongi!
Although there aren't as many distinctive sights to see in the Roppongi area, there is a ton of pedestrian traffic. Lots of people want to stop and take pictures of you as you zoom by, and the kids watch on in awe as you zoom by with your group. You can also honk the horns on the carts for extra fun. I'm sure the salarymen appreciated it on their way home from work. :) After zipping through Roppongi, it's then on to Shibuya, where things really begin to get fun!
The guides purposefully loop you around and back through the famous scramble crossing at least three times. Every time, the passing groups will stop and take pictures, run up and give you high fives, take video, and laugh their heads off. The more you get comfortable with being "in character" the more fun you will have! I had seen groups like ours drive through this area before, but I never thought I would actually be able to be in one! After all the fun in Shibuya, it's a quick convenience store stop, then back to Shinagawa.
I still cannot believe that this is doable in a place as rule-conscious as Tokyo, and yet it is! The requirements for driving the karts are listed on their website. If you are coming from America as a tourist, you can drive, but be sure to bring your American license along with an International Drivers Permit. You can get these at a AAA office in America before your trip over. If you live in a different country, be sure to check their website before heading to Tokyo or making reservations.
Overall, this was one of the most amazing, fun, unique, and brilliant experiences I could imagine. The staff at MariCar were very cool and laid back, and the guides that went with us were total nuts. They really set the atmosphere for a memorable, fun time. This was nothing short of a dream come true for me, and at the insanely low price point, it's an experience that I will absolutely be repeating in the future. Although you won't be chucking bananas at your opponents, and it doesn't really matter who wins as it's not a race, it's the closest thing you'll get to a real life Mario Kart like experience.
For more information on tours, booking, or other inquiries, check out their website.