If you’ve ever wanted to race like a real-life Mario Kart character, you’re in luck.
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Japan is the only country in the world that allows you to zip around on busy streets in an actual go kart. While the activity is not affiliated with Nintendo in any way, you can book through Street Kart Japan instead.
Please do your research beforehand if you’d like to book this activity, since there are a few important requirements:
- An official driver’s license from your home country (obviously) – you need to bring the physical card, since a copy won’t suffice.
- Make sure you also have an International Driving Permit (IDP) before you go to Japan. Americans can easily get one for $20 USD from AAA. It took about 5 min. to get it, since someone basically writes out your driver’s license in English on an official permit card (the size of your passport). It’s good for a year, and it’s pretty useful to have. If you don’t have an IDP, you won’t be able to race.
- Passport (make sure you don’t forget it in your hotel’s safe)
- A GoPro and chest or head mount (if you have them). They have options to rent a knockoff GoPro and buy the videos from there, but it’s always nice to just use your own.
- Make sure you book online beforehand. This is a popular activity, and reservations fill up quickly, especially during peak periods. Book online before you fly out from your home country to ensure that you have everything you need. Voyagin usually offers great discounts on Street Kart options year-round, so definitely book through them if you can.
I managed to get a pretty sweet deal – I had the Shibuya course booked months in advance, but due to the chaos of COVID-19 in March, was switched to the Shinagawa course on a last-minute notice. I ended up getting 2 hours for the price of my original 1 hour, and the course took us through Shibuya, Roppongi, and Harajuku.
There are three karting options: 1, 2, or 4 hours. I wouldn’t recommend past the 2-hour mark, since my legs were numb and had locked up by the time we finally got out of the karts. Additionally, you can go any time of day – but if you go in the winter like we did, you’ll freeze at night (and the video quality probably won’t be as great).
Not only was I fortunate enough to have perfect blue-skied weather, but I essentially had a private tour – only another Aussie dude was in my group, whereas we usually saw groups of 10 whizzing past Asakusa and Shibuya. It was a lot easier navigating the chaotic streets with just the two of us following the guide, especially during one point when we had to execute a
somewhat very dangerous blind turn onto oncoming traffic.
You get to choose a delightful onesie as part of your karting package, so it was only fair that I was Minnie Mouse. If you’re going during a cold season, make sure you wear warm layers underneath the onesie.
The whole experience was filled with adrenaline from start to finish. It took me awhile to get used to the accelerator and brakes, especially since I’m such a cautious [bad Asian] driver. To prevent cars and large trucks from cutting in between you and the kart in front, you’re supposed to literally tail the person ahead of you at all times.
Being the paranoid, anxiety-ridden driver that I am, I was terrified of causing any accidents or ramming into the guide ahead of me. However, the longer we drove, the more I loved it. We even drove directly next to Tokyo Tower, although I don’t remember looking up at it much since I was so focused on the road.
It was completely different seeing all the busy streets from a Mario point-of-view, especially since the karts were literally Hot Wheels-sized and the tiniest bits of metal you could imagine.
My favourite parts were driving the accelerator into the ground at 70 kmh (tears came out of my eyes since we went that fast) and whizzing through a bridge without any cars around us. There was also a random YouTuber who stuck his 20-ft. selfie stick out the window to record us, and another time I accidentally drifted while trying to maneuver a hairpin turn on the highway ramp.
Our guide took photos of both of us at nearly every stoplight (the Japanese love their photos) and then Airdropped them to us for free at the end of the tour. They even gave us a passport-sized printed copy of our photo in front of Tokyo Tower, which was a beautiful takeaway souvenir.
If you’re keen on experiencing Tokyo, I highly recommend Street Kart Japan. They have options in Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, and it’s your one opportunity to experience real-life Mario Kart!
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