MariCAR — Akihabara
You’ve probably seen the viral videos by now — people driving go-karts on the streets in Japan while cosplaying as Super Mario Bros. characters. It’s the closest thing to real-life Mario Cart. This extremely rare fun activity, that probably only exists in Japan now, is run by MariCAR. When I visited Tokyo, it was the absolutely first thing that I wanted to experience. And it’s the logic thing to do first as I’d get to see which parts of Tokyo I’d want to explore more during my stay in the city.
My girlfriend and I booked the 2-hour Tokyo Tour/course. Reservations were easily done via their Facebook Page and no advance payment was required. I wouldn’t say this activity was cheap for us. It cost us 6,000 yen per person for the “SNS Review Price” (a special 2,000 yen discount for those who promise to review MariCAR on social networking sites). They’ve recently increased that price to 7,000 yen. We’re also required to get our International Driving Permit (from the Malaysian Road Transport Department, JPJ) which cost another RM150 each. So in total including that, it had cost us around RM380 per person (excluding the other optional stuff). However, both of us agree that it was worth it. Not only it’s rare to get to do go-karting on city streets but the overall experience and sightseeing Tokyo for the first time were awesome.
Although we arrived at MariCAR’s Akihabara branch before the time of our appointment, we had to wait a while before being grouped up with two more other customers. After signing some liability waiver forms and paying up, we chose a costume to wear (inclusive, no extra charge). There were many different characters to choose from, not just from Mario Kart. There were Toy Story, Minions and anime characters from Dragon Ball Z, Naruto and One Piece as well. The costumes were cute, goofy single-piece suits. We had a good laugh at each other as soon as we put them on.
I went with Mario (I just had to) while my girlfriend went with Yoshi, though her hoodie was too big and heavy to stay on her head. She later found out that there’s actually a skirt version of some of the costumes and regretted for not looking through the options clearly. Some of the suits didn’t look super clean but we only had wear it over what we’re already wearing. Be sure to use the toilet before wearing them though.
The vehicles were pretty easy to operate and drive. No doubt I was nervous at first and the karts could definitely use a power steering upgrade but I got the hang of it after a few turns. Our friendly tour leader did a fantastic job at explaining how to drive the thing, took good care of us and he also took photos for us at certain stops. His instructions were simple — drive in one line behind him and go two-by-two at traffic light stops.
We drove from Akihabara to Tower Tokyo before crossing the Rainbow Bridge at top speed (60 km/hour I think). We had our first rest/photo stop in Odaiba and then from there we drove through Ginza and had our second stop at Tokyo Station for more photos before driving back to the shop. Our trip was supposed to end after Ginza but our tour leader said we were still early as we drove faster than most customers did. So we got a bonus!
We did encounter two problems. I was wearing contact lenses so when we’re driving fast, the wind kept making the lenses out of position and my eyes felt really uncomfortably dry. I should’ve asked for visors or shades. They lend them to customers for free.
The other problem was the optional action cameras we rented from them which cost 1,500 yen each including a 16GB micro SD card. The recording was poor. When the staffs asked us if we would like to attach the camera onto our forehead or chest, we said chest if the steering wouldn’t block the view and they just told us okay no problem. The steering did block at least 1/3 of the camera’s view, the whole recording was from a lower angle and we weren’t able to capture what we saw when we turned our head. The battery also ran out before the end of the tour.
However, we were still very happy with the whole experience. Our tour was on a Saturday evening during the supposed rainy season (fortunately the weather was kind). It was perfect ’cause we got both day and night, and there weren’t many cars on the streets so it was mostly a smooth drive. Only a few passersby taking photos and waving at us here and there (I guess most locals were already used to seeing it).
While driving, there were times I imagined myself in some sort of a Mario Kart game where I had to avoid holes and bumps on the roads or points would be deducted (lol). I can’t describe how thrillingly fun it was when we were on Rainbow Bridge. That had to be our favourite part of the entire tour — driving at top speed, seemingly racing against ordinary vehicles, the feeling of strong, cold wind, and the beautiful view of the sea and the city — unforgettable! We’re already planning to do it again in the near future when we visit Osaka for the first time.
Check out the video edit of our 2-hour ride;