You know the saying that somethings so good it should be illegal? Now how often have you heard that said about a tour??? Well that’s exactly what I was saying after my real life Mario Kart Tokyo tour with MariCARS – note: absolutely no affiliation with Super Mario Bros (what even is that, please don’t sue us Nintendo!). This is a big call I know, but I guarantee you’ll be saying the exact same thing after you experience real life Mario Kart Racing around Tokyo. Who would have thought that Japan, a country of strict rules and no-nonsense conformist culture, would ever allow a bunch of tourists to hurtle around their capital city of Tokyo in (I absolutely kid you not) a bunch of street legal go karts! Yes you read that right, we’re talking about real life Mario Kart racing through the most populated city on earth, adrenaline pumping, wind blowing in your face as you pass by many of the most famous landmarks of Tokyo!
Now let’s just be clear, it’s MariCARS, an innocent name completely of its own origin. We are not sure what Mario refers to. It could be Mario Sciacca (half of the Danish-Italian pop duo Muri & Mario) 12931 Mario (an asteroid), Mario (a 1984 Canadian drama film) or really anyone with the given name Mario….
Why would it necessarily refer to Super Mario Kart, an acclaimed video game by Nintendo released in 1992 that featured gamers racing against computer-controlled characters including a particular fictional Italian plumber… I mean, I can’t possibly see any similarities at all can you?
For any traveller that’s been to any of the biggest cities in the world before you no doubt know that upon arriving in Tokyo you are initially going to be a little overwhelmed. Where to go, what to see etc – there are just so many options of unusual things to do in Tokyo. Simply getting your bearings in Tokyo so you can come up with the best plan that suits you is going to be difficult. Now I’ve always said, if you’re not sure where to start with a city the best thing to do is jump on a city tour of some sort. Generally this would involve something like a free walking tour some cities offer or perhaps a food tour that shows you around at the same time. However when visiting Tokyo it would be a struggle to cover any decent ground with those other more traditional ideas given the size of the city, meaning you only get to see a small area of Tokyo and spend plenty of time underground in crowded subways. Thankfully here in Tokyo however you have a 3rd option for exploring the city – with a big point of difference – MariCARS!!! Head out on a tour with MariCARS and you’ll be traversing a big chunk of the central city along with the wind in your hair and adrenaline pumping through your veins – no boring facts, forced souvenir shopping or stuffy museums guaranteed!
Real life Mario Kart racing on the streets of Tokyo Japan offers a brilliantly novel way of getting a snapshot of all the best parts of Tokyo from a completely different angle. On arriving at the MariCARS shop the first order of business is of course a bit of paperwork. It goes without saying this type of activity doesn’t come without risk but the professional team have been running this operation for years without serious incident however full insurance is offered just to be on the safe side (and just like hiring a car in Tokyo, you would be crazy not to take it!). After some simple digital forms and a check of your international drivers license it’s time to make some big decisions…..what am I going to wear!? Remember this is Japan and simply karting around the city isn’t crazy enough. To really set the mood you have the option of uncountable different animated characters from movies and video games to choose from. Are you feeling particularly Super….man? Maybe your friends a little nervous and you need to Poke-em-on? Or perhaps you feel the need to live out your fantasy life as that Italian plumber mentioned earlier? Whatever you choose it all adds to the hilarity to come for both you and passers-by as you whizz through the streets. The outfits are also washed after each use so no concerns there either.
Important note: A valid international driving license is required for any drivers in Japan – real life Mario kart or otherwise. To drive in Japan, you must have either a Japanese Driving License, a SOFA Driving License for US Forces in Japan, a Passport issued in Switzerland, Germany, France, Taiwan, Belgium, Slovenia or Monaco with Foreign driving license and Japanese Translation by authorized organization or mostly likely – an international driving Permit (issued by a signatory to the 1949 Geneva Convention) which you need to apply and receive from your home country!
Real Life Mario Kart tours with MariCARS range from 1.5 to 3 hours – but you should go for the longest length possible as once you start you are not going to want to stop, plus you already have gone through all the effort of getting your international drivers license for Japan go karting right? Make sure you dress appropriately for the season – its can be bitterly cold in winter, but if you dress properly it won’t be a problem and the epic onesie of famous animation characters available for use free of charge do help to keep you warm! It’s also OK to take phones or small cameras with you and secure bags are provided on the karts. Normal road rules apply here though so no photos or use of devices are allowed while driving as being pulled over is a stop on the tour you probably don’t want to make… Plus trust me, it is really hard to drive and take photos without your phone going flying…..
If it’s your first time go karting in Toyko, or anywhere, there’s also nothing to worry about it turns out. I was nervous before hand but the street legal go karts have simple controls and a full safety pre briefing including revising the Japanese road rules is covered, meaning you’ll be zipping around with confidence in no time. So after more selfies in our ridiculous costumes than I’d care to admire – hey don’t judge, Mario kart cosplay is not an everyday occurrence for me – we finally set off on our go karting experience!
MariCARS starts all their tours out in quiet back streets of Tokyo so you get chance to get comfortable with driving your go-kart before you get to any tricky parts. Soon you’ll be racing along like it’s nobodies business. It’s a bit of a surreal feeling at first, something you think just should not be happening. Forget virtual reality, real life Mario Kart racing is truly like playing a video game from your childhood… if there was a video game involving colourful characters zipping around tight corners and bizarre landscapes.
The guys at MariCARS really have planned out some great routes, managing to take you to all the best spots to see the sights while avoiding things like traffic or difficult roads. But they also manage to deliver some great fun simply from the driving! Exciting winding roads to nice open straights, I wish my daily commute was as much fun so if you have the time you really should give their longer tour a go! A real highlight of our real life Mario Kart adventure was making the climb over Tokyo’s Rainbow Bridge, exhilarating would be the only way to describe it, and the icing on the cake was being rewarded after with spectacular views across to Tokyo City and a visit to the Japan Statue of Liberty (yes, that’s a thing!) where curious onlookers will be gagging over your Mario Kart cosplay – and probably want a few photos!
Even when you’re not looking up at all of the must see attractions in Tokyo, just taking in the out-of -the-way-areas you wouldn’t have seen otherwise in Tokyo was brilliant. Then there’s the slightly curiouser parts of the real Mario Kart tour in Tokyo such as filing through a car park building looking for a park (potentially with a few sneaky hand-break drifts… Not only will there be a giant smile across your face the entire time but you’ll also be getting plenty of attention from everyone else thanks to your Mario Kart cosplay as you go too! Even though MariCARS has been in operation for a few years the locals still can’t get enough of it – I’m talking kindergarten children running after you or girls ditching their boyfriends to chase you down the street (you won’t find this experience in your Japan Lonely Planet!)… Or maybe its just that there’s simply so many people here not everyone has seen the real life Mario Karts driving in Tokyo yet.
No matter where we went it was us, the tourists, that had become the attraction (which was kind of similar to our later trip to Nasu, the Imperial Resort town outside of Tokyo). You better practise your best smile, brush your hair and expect to be the focus of plenty of peoples selfies as just about everyone you’ll pass will be taking a double look, and who could blame them really! Waiting for traffic lights to go green was suddenly a completely different affair. Rather than being a monotonous wait it was more like a red carpet photo shoot with people waving and cameras flashing. I for one have never felt more glamorous in my life – in Mario Kart cosplay no less – and it was almost disappointing when it was time to go and leave my new fans. Driving a real life Mario go-kart may in fact be the perfect solution to completely eliminate road rage, and I hope they expand outside of Japan soon!
If you want to get in on the action and take some pictures of your own during the trip you can either bring your own action-can with you or otherwise MariCARS have their own which you’re able to hire for a pretty low price and keep the microSD card. Strapping a GoPRO to your head is your best bet for some amazing photos or awesome videos that are bound to make every one of your friends at home jealous… Or if you’d rather take the whole real life Mario Kart experience in and not worry about a bulky camera the MariCARS guys are great at taking plenty of pictures of everyone during the occasional stops at the traffic lights which they share with the group at the end of the trip free of charge. It’s all about going the extra mile with these guys (finally I got to work this pun in!)
Now generally you’d think that smaller group sizes are better but surprisingly this isn’t the case when heading out on a real life Mario Kart adventure. We were a group of 10 which made it all the more cooler when there’s so many of you snaking through the streets. Later we saw much smaller groups of 3 to 4 with a competitor company (they were not even in Mario cosplay – BOOO!) and they didn’t really get any attention from the crowds and looked a little sad if I’m honest. And don’t worry about getting lost with larger numbers, during your Mario Kart Tour through busy Tokyo, MariCARS has a guide in front and one bringing up the rear ensuring nobody gets left behind. “‘Ohana” means “family.” “Family” means “no one gets left behind.” That reminds me, you can totally go as Stitch if you want, which judging by the reactions of people on the streets of Tokyo and in DisneySea (the best Disney Resort in the world!).
The whole concept of a real life Mario Kart tour in Tokyo really is bonkers, but it works so perfectly I can’t believe it hasn’t expanded globally….and I really can’t see any way that you won’t enjoy yourself! It’s a once in a lifetime experience that you’ll be wanting to do again as soon as you pull up back into the MariCARS shop. Go karts in Mario Kart cosplay around Tokyo really will be one of the highlights of your time in Tokyo, something unique that you won’t find anywhere else in the world (yet…) Forget the boring walking tours, embrace your childhood video game fantasies and join MariCars go-kart city tour of Tokyo with a difference.
P.S MariCAR has 8 shops dotted around Tokyo so you can probably find one nearby your Tokyo accommodation. There is even now a MariCar in Osaka incase you want to match the nearby Kyoto Fox Shrine withsomething more exhilarating!
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Many budget travelers (including me) indulge in worldwide airport lounge access, so we can experience luxury while still slumming it in economy. Naturally, we would never leave home without a more a more general travel guide since we couldn’t possibly cover everything here!
Just add an adventurous attitude and plenty of smiles - they go a long way - and that about covers it all! Now go out, find your own path and don't forget to share your best inspiration stories with me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram...I'd love to hear from you!