There was chaos all around me. Colourful characters swerving and speeding through the streets of high-rise buildings and temples. Blinded by the neon lights and deafened by the roaring electronic soundtrack, I gathered all my focus towards pole position. Despite all...
There was chaos all around me. Colourful characters swerving and speeding through the streets of high-rise buildings and temples. Blinded by the neon lights and deafened by the roaring electronic soundtrack, I gathered all my focus towards pole position. Despite all the chaos and commotion, I remained calm. I was driven by the will to win. The finish line was mine for the taking. As I swerved and drifted around an incoming banana peel, I took a deep breath, aimed and fired a turtle shell at my opponent in front of me, sending him flying up into the air.
MariCar – Tokyo’s crazy real-life Mario Kart
Ok, so that’s not exactly how it went down, but the adrenaline, excitement and craziness of driving a small go-kart through the streets of Tokyo, dressed in a Mario character onesie is nothing short of exhilarating. When I first heard about MariCar I thought it would be a fun and quirky experience to wrap up our amazing trip to Japan. I assumed that there would be some kind of cut-off section of the roads or footpaths where we would have somewhat of a token drive. I was wrong. Apart from the character costumes you can wear, there is nothing fantasy or token about it. You will drive a real, modified-for-road go-kart and you will drive it on the road, with all the rest of the traffic in Tokyo.
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That sounds dangerous?
By our road standards, it probably is. However, MariCar operate in line with the law and they are strict when it comes to Licences (you MUST present a valid International Licence, issued from your country of residence, to participate). Rest assured, we get taken through safety instructions, (which included, “Don’t hit the other cars”, “Don’t beep your horn unnecessarily”, “Follow the road rules like a normal driver” and “Follow my lead”), however it’s still pretty hard to believe this is actually allowed.
Trying to avoid being hit by a merging bus or truck whilst driving 50kms an hour over a bridge really puts your vulnerability into perspective…. and it is brilliant for the adrenaline junkies. Whilst we had no issues, there have been a number of accidents – including go-karts crashing on top of another and others hitting parked cars and police boxes. These incidents have prompted concern from police and the government, even with talks of closing it down (but luckily for us, business is going strong and we got to do it!).
If driving down the streets of Tokyo on a go-kart and dressed as a cartoon character excites you, how about fighting a sumo dressed in a sumo suit? Read about how you can Fight a Sumo here!
Make no mistake, this is NOT Mario Kart
After being taken to court in February 2017 by Nintendo, the owners have been quite adamant that this is not a copy of Mario Kart, but it’s hard not to find the similarities, especially when you see Mario, Luigi, Toad and Yoshi zoom down the street in go-karts. The owners of MariCar actually won the court case and can still operate, despite Nintendo’s attempts to shut them down. They do have a disclaimer on their website (which I found amusing), including the following:
- No racing each other on the streets.
- Do not throw banana peals or any other garbage on to the streets.
- Do not throw red turtle shells or any other objects to each other.
So what’s MariCar actually like?
All joking aside, MariCar is super fun. When we rocked up to the storefront in Akihabara, we were handed forms to sign and directed to pick a character onesie from the huge selection. The store was abuzz with excited millennials, ready to race. Lockers are provided and if you want to hire go-pros and accessories, there is the option for that also. Once dressed, we were divided into small groups and went through the safety spiel with our fearless leader, before we headed to our go-karts.
A few practice revs, blinker tests and beeps later, and we were ready to hit the road… literally! It is quite surreal driving on the road in a small 50cc go-kart. You are lower to the ground and there is not much between you and the cars around you. Thankfully, drivers in Japan are sensible, so we didn’t have much to worry about. We followed the signals of our leader to slow down, speed up and drive in single or double file. The go-karts tend to embellish every bump and vibration on the road, so it was a nice relief to have a short pit stop at Odaiba and take the obligatory selfie and enjoy the wonderful views of the Rainbow Bridge and the Statue of Liberty replica.
But, a man (or woman) has got to ride, so back on the road we went! These babies are small, but still pack a punch. We almost hit 60kms/hr at some stages and really felt the adrenaline rush. In a city of 13 million people, we quickly became the attraction for tourists and locals alike, with many people waving at us from passing buses and even stopping in the middle of crossings to take photos of us. Every time we stopped at the lights, Guy and I would laugh in amusement at how crazy this actually was (and wonder how it could be legal!). All in all, it was an exhilarating experience and one we would definitely do again next time we are in Japan!
Where: Maricar operate from a few sites in Tokyo and Osaka. You can find details of their stores on their website.
When: MariCar offer a number of 2-hour and 3-hour laps around the city throughout the day and evening. Check their Facebook page for up-to-date times and to make a booking.
Cost: Prices start from ¥8,000
If this sounds like something you MUST do when in Japan, make sure you have your International Drivers’ Licence organised. They won’t let you participate if you don’t have one (and you have to organise it before you go to Japan).
What do you think? Crazy, or a MUST-DO in Japan? But more importantly, what character would you dress up as?
Let us know in the comments below!
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