This is now ranked number 1 on my Japan “things-to-do” list!
The first time I saw a friend post about it on social media, I had to blink and look again closely to make sure my eyes wasn’t playing tricks on me or that the photo wasn’t photoshopped in any way. After I checked that none of the above was applicable, I was intrigued. The photo I saw of my friends was of them on the streets of Tokyo, dressed as Super Mario characters on Mario Go-Karts. The scenery behind them was not inside any indoor track; it literally was on the mean streets of Japan, in the midst of regular automobiles going about their daily business.
Fast forward to some months later, the incident was almost completely forgotten. For an different reason, I was planning a trip to Japan and the Mario Kart activity immediately came back to the forefront of my mind – it was going to be a definite must-do on my trip!
There is currently only one major company that runs the Mario Kart tours (MariCar) in various major cities around Japan. Their company was sued previously by Nintendo for using the idea of Super Mario, and so they now offer other cartoon characters you can also dress up as as “Cosplay” Go-Kart tours. It is important to note that you can only join a tour if you have a Japanese drivers license, or an International Drivers Permit (“IDP”). Having a drivers license in any English from any western country is not sufficient, and the company won’t let you join the tour without an official IDP.
After going on one of their “short” tours around Tokyo (the total time took about 1.5-2 hours) where they stopped at a few of the major tourist attractions on a pre-defined route (my tour took me past the Tokyo Tower, Roppongi Hills, and through the famous Shibuya crossing). Upon getting in the tiny Karts and seeing other tour group members in front of you dressed up as Mario characters (or other cartoon characters), it’s easy to forget that you’re not in a video game, and I had to remind myself constantly to obey the Japanese traffic rules. But being in Japan, the other cars also obey the rules diligently and drive carefully so being in a tiny go-Kart still fees very safe. Pedestrians (locals and tourists alike) get very excited seeing the Karts on the streets, as it’s still a random and infrequent occurrence, taking out their phones immediately to take photos of you and wave hi. The pedestrians aren’t the only ones taking photos of you – your tour guide also takes photos at every attraction stop so you don’t need to worry about photos yourself. GoPros are also allowed, but if you forget yours, you can always rent it with the company.
Japan has a whole plethora of things to do and see in the country, but doing a Mario Kart tour is now ranked number 1 on my Japan “things-to-do” list!
Photos: Tracy Cheng
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