Mario, Yoshi, and Princess Peach zoom by, going about 60 kilometers an hour. They dodge obstacles and each other, occasionally screeching to a halt, and frequently waving to the crowd of spectators. Sound like a familiar video game? Try again. This is real life Mario Kart, a fantasy you can live out in the streets of busy Tokyo.
MariCar is the largest of the companies in Tokyo that specialize in public go-karting, and is located about a 3-minute walk from Keikyu Kita-Shinagawa station or a 15-minute walk from JR Shinagawa station. Founded in June of last year, the company now books about 1000 go-kart spots per month, with 90% of the clientele being foreigners. According to the the staff, MariCar stands out against the competition due to its “Hi-Spec” karts, range of costumes to chose from, as well as other rental options.
I recently had the chance to make my childhood Mario Kart dreams come true on a cold March afternoon. Along with 19 fellow foreigners, we showed up at MariCar ready for the ultimate show down. First things first: we signed a waiver and showed them the proper identification. In order to partake, you need to have a Japanese driver’s license, an international driver’s permit, or a SOFA license (US Armed Forces). Next up: we picked our costume. They have a rack of outfits and accessories to choose from, ranging from your classic Mario Kart characters to a few off-the-wall selections (Batman anyone?) In addition, helmets, face masks, and gloves are available for those who feel inclined. I found my inner princess in Princess Peach, crown and all, and skipped outside for our race tutorial. Every button and lever was carefully explained in English, and soon I found myself at the seat of my own little red kart, eager to get on the road.
MariCar employees donned costumes themselves and led the pack through Tokyo on one of their three designated courses. We had chosen Course A which included Tokyo Tower, Roppongi, and Shibuya. The pack drove together, generally in two lines, and made sure to stop after traffic lights to make sure everyone was caught up. “Racing” itself was conceivable but everyone was required to follow traffic laws: 60 kilometers per hour was the max and seriously crashing into your friends, Mario Kart style, means a traffic accident. And a fine. A gentle tap won’t summon the police but try to be careful regardless of your intentions.
Laws aside, zipping through Tokyo alongside the general traffic was one of the most exhilarating things I have ever done. My favorite part was going through Shibuya Scramble, also known as the busiest intersection in the world. The paparazzi, (aka every normal pedestrian around), was at their finest as we zoomed through in glory. Thousands of pictures were taken, high fives were given through passenger windows, and I laughed with glee as I passed my rival, Princess Peach #2, for the 12th time. After the final vroom into home base, I then understood why MariCar gets a lot of repeat visitors. “Once is never enough,” the staff proclaims. Yes, the need for speed is quite addicting. (You can see our adventures below.)
A few tips: Pick a costume that is weather appropriate. Wearing a frilly princess dress in mid-winter may win audience approval, but won’t protect you against the arctic blasts. Pick a car with an AV cord so you can plug your tunes in. Though the music won’t drown out the roar of your kart’s engine, nothing beats stopping at a red light and jamming to your own soundtrack. If you have a GoPro and something to attach it to, bring it, or rent one from the shop. Pictures can be a bit tricky to take when you’re trying to safely steer with two hands.
Have fun and happy karting!
Given the recent suit that Nintendo filed against MariCar, we’re not certain how long they’ll be able to keep those Karts on the track, but you can check out their site for course maps, prices, and directions: www.maricar.com.