The options for seeing Tokyo are varied—from busy trains to taxis and of course cheapo-friendly feet, but what if you want something different? Here’s how you can take to the roads in a real-life (but completely unofficial) “Mario Kart” in Tokyo.
Note: Legal issues might have seen changes to the line-up of go-kart providers, but you can still book tours online. Rates start from around ¥7,000. Read on for more details.
“Mario Kart” in Tokyo: How it works
The street-kart rental companies offer you the opportunity to drive through the city streets, as long as you have one of the approved driving licenses (listed below).
Most go-karts are fitted with GPS and communication bands, and you’ll be following a tour guide at all times, so you don’t need to worry about taking a wrong turn and ending up in, say, Hokkaido. You can also try go-karting under the neon-lights of Osaka or Kyoto.
Before scorching the tarmac, you can stash your belongings in a locker at the shop and change into your costume, which is often included in the price.
When you have decided on which tour(s) you want and are certain you have the right paperwork (see below for both), you can book with the shop of your choice online. There may be options for free cancellation depending on the weather, but be sure to arrive promptly for your booking otherwise.
Tokyo go-kart tickets
You can get a good deal on tickets for your street karting in Tokyo experience by booking on Voyagin.
Choosing your shop and tour(s)
Though the number of Tokyo go-kart rental companies may have shrunk in recent months, you can still book tours through an outlet in Roppongi. They offer two courses:
- Short course, priced at ¥7,000: 35 minutes driving time, taking you around Minato Ward, including past Tokyo Tower
- “Popular” course, priced at ¥8,500: 90 minutes driving time, taking you around Harajuku, Shibuya Scramble Crossing and Roppongi (including Tokyo Tower)
Both of these Tokyo go-kart tour packages include:
- Quick go-kart lesson
- Fun costume
- Tour guide driver
- GPS & speakers (subject to availability)
- Fuel (and no, you don’t need to fill up on the way back)
- Accident insurance
Other tours may become available—as and when they do, you should see them pop up on the booking page.
Getting kitted out to go-kart in Tokyo
If you’re going to zoom through the streets, you’ll need some accessories—either for safety or fun. Rentals typically include a face-guard mask and shades, plus your favorite costume. Depending on the shop, you can also sometimes rent LED shoes, a bluetooth speaker or a 4K action camera. Memory cards might also be available if you need one—just ask.
One great element is that the shops don’t prevent you from bringing your own cameras, costumes or anything else—and don’t charge you either, so you can use your own equipment as you please.
Following safety precautions
Riding through the streets at knee-level might seem a bit dangerous when confronted with trucks, boy-racers and never-re-tested pensioner-drivers, but the rental companies do have safety measures in place. Accident insurance is included, and there are some general rules to follow that are designed to keep you alive that little bit longer.
- No racing allowed
- Dress appropriately: no heels, sandals or long skirts allowed
- Follow your guide’s advice and route, including hand gestures and speed
What license do you need to drive a go-kart in Japan?
Although it might look like a game, this adventure takes place on real-life streets and is regulated by Japanese law. Anyone wanting to drive a “Mario Kart” in Tokyo will need to have one of the following:
- A full Japanese driving license
- An International Driving Permit (used with your passport and home country license)
- This permit can only be obtained outside of Japan and lasts for one year from the date of entry to Japan and/or issuance. It is easy to get, for example, it can be obtained from the AAA for around $20 in America.
- It must be issued under the 1949 Geneva Convention; the permit cannot be issued under the 1926 Paris Convention, the 1943 Washington Convention or the 1968 Vienna Convention.
- A SOFA driving license for members of US military forces in Japan
- An American driving license with US military ID is also acceptable.
- A foreign driving license issued in Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Estonia, Taiwan, Slovenia or Monaco. Residents of these countries are allowed to drive in Japan for one year from entry, provided they have a Japanese translation by an authorized organization. Bring these two documents and your passport with you.
What about the non-drivers?
If you can’t drive, don’t have the paperwork or just don’t trust yourself (or others) on the road, you can still take part in the fun. There is sometimes an option for a non-driver to travel in a special tuk-tuk and convertible to take photos of the team. The boarding fee of approximately ¥3,000 may be waived if the person travels in the same car as the staff. If that isn’t available, you can always park yourself at a cafe along the driving route and wave as the go-karts cruise past.
A word of warning before you roar off
There have been a few incidents with people driving a go-kart in Tokyo, including a hit-and-run with a cyclist and some very, very dodgy driving on very busy roads. It can’t be stated enough that you need to drive responsibly at all times. Enjoy the experience, but keep in mind that you need to be extremely careful—and also respectful of your surroundings. Some go-karts have been getting on the nerves of local residents, so try to keep the peace.
Copyright issues: Mari Mobility (the old MariCar company) recently found itself in very hot water with a certain video game company. Fortunately for folks wanting to rent a street kart in Tokyo, they weren’t the only provider on the block—others are still operating.
While we do our best to keep things up to date, all prices and other details are subject to change. Last updated in January, 2021.