What if I told you that for only $100 you could dress up as your favorite virtual Italian plumber and spend three hours driving around downtown Tokyo in a go-kart? Well if you’re anything like Alana and I, you would immediately ask where to sign up! And as ridiculous as this idea might sound, I’m not making any of it up.
Alana had heard about MariCAR (no relation to Nintendo 😉) when we were still planning our trip back in New Zealand, and we immediately decided that it would be one of our mandatory big ticket expenses. We decided to go for the three hour tour as opposed to the shorter tour because driving around Tokyo in a go-kart seemed like the kind of once in a lifetime thing that would be worth spending a little extra on. Alana contacted them via Facebook Messenger (an interesting automatic message thing) in order to book our tour. You need to have an international drivers permit (which we fortunately already had in order to drive in New Zealand) to participate in the tour. We were a little concerned because our international drivers’ permits were set to expire soon, but we managed to squeeze this last thing in.
On the day of the tour I had to work in the morning, so Alana went out to the nearby Lawson to pick up our cheapskate breakfast of rice balls and bread. We relaxed and then set out in the early afternoon since our tour wasn’t until the evening. By the time we got to Akihabara we were feeling a little peckish again and decided it would be a good idea to fuel up before our three hour Mario Kart reenactment. We stopped at another vending machine noodle place for some noodles with tofu skin (me) and fried chicken (Alana). We stopped at a convenience store for some drinks and were pleasantly surprised to find that next to the refrigerated drink section there was a heated drink section, not like a coffee machine that we have here in the states, but like a little section of shelves full of bottled drinks that were all kept nice and warm (these would come in handy later when I came down with the travel flu).
We arrived at the MariCAR shop right on time. Our guide showed us some down jackets that we were allowed to borrow (very nice as it was still pretty cold in March and the wind while driving around in the go-kart made it feel even colder). After putting on our coats we started searching the costume collection. There were all manner of onesies that you could put on, from your favorite Mario Kart characters like Mario, Luigi, and Bowser, to other seemingly random choices like the Ninja Turtles and Minions. We opted to go with Mario and Luigi for orthodoxy’s sake. There was one other couple from Korea on our tour. Our guide Hun showed us out to our go-karts, which were parked underneath an overpass across the street. After a quick lesson on hand signals, seat belts, and where the gas/brake pedals are (as well as a specific prohibition against throwing banana peels onto the road behind us), we pulled out onto the street and took off!
Our tour took us through Akihabara, down to Ginza and the Tokyo Tower, back and forth across the Rainbow Road… I mean Bridge, and back to Akihabara. It was a really crazy, surreal experience. We were just driving alongside all of the regular traffic. Every time we hit a stoplight our guide (and often people in surrounding cars) would snap some pictures and happily wave. Driving around Tokyo at night in a go-kart was definitely one of the most unforgettable and enjoyable experiences of our trip. On the far side of the Rainbow Bridge we took a brief intermission and went up to the observation floor of a building for some pretty good night time views of Tokyo. The building was totally empty and we enjoyed being escorted through the quiet building in our ridiculous costumes.
We spoke with our guide Hun who happened to be from South Korea and was in Japan on a working holiday. We chatted about our respective working holiday experiences. Hun mentioned that he was thinking about going to New Zealand next, and we gave him a glowing review of our time there. Unfortunately, US citizens aren’t eligible for working holidays in Japan. Otherwise we may have submitted our applications that night, just for the chance to be MariCar tour guides.
On the way back it was getting a bit late, so there wasn’t much traffic on the roads. Alana particularly enjoyed speeding back across the Rainbow Bridge and down the spiraling off ramp. We sped past another group of MariCAR-ers and under and through a series of bridges and tunnels with colorful lines on the ground that added to the experience of being in a real life Mario-Kart game. This tour was our most expensive purchase thus far, but was 100% worth it and we would both definitely recommend it.
After our tour we spent some time in the nearby arcades of Akhihabara (between Sega Buildings 1, 2, and 3 we were spoiled for choice). We tried our hands at the claw games on the first floor, as well as some of the music, fighting, and racing games on the upper floors. It had been a while since we had played any arcade games and our lack of experience was painfully apparent. Mostly, we watched the experts play from afar, especially the music games. Finally, feeling pretty tired, we headed back to our apartment, stopping at Lawson again for some cheap dinner. We got some frozen pizza which we heated up in the microwave at our apartment. The food lesson from that night was: when eating cheap convenience store food, stick with the rice balls.
PS- for more info about MariCAR Akihabara check out their website!