Ever dreamed of being inside a video game? Yeah, me too. And in Japan, you can do it. For two hours, you can be Luigi, doing real-life Mario Kart in Tokyo, speeding through the streets alongside Mario, Peach, and Donkey Kong. And yes, this is as crazy fun as it sounds. Street go-karting in Japan is a laugh-out-loud, unforgettable experience.

What is Real-Life Mario Kart in Tokyo?

Now you might be asking, “What exactly is real-life Mario Kart in Japan?”. Well, imagine this: you’re in a small, nimble go-kart, speeding through the heart of Tokyo. You’re decked out in an iconic Mario Kart outfit, transforming you into Luigi, Yoshi, or even Princess Peach. Around you, the city buzzes with energy, neon lights flashing, skyscrapers towering, and people gasping at the sight of a real-life Mario Kart rally in action.

So, should you give it a go? Is it worth your precious vacation time? Well, if you ask me, it’s a resounding YES. For a few hours, you’ll be a part of the city’s life.

It’s this connection that makes street go-karting more than just a ride. It’s an intersection of pop culture, gaming nostalgia, and the undeniable charm of Japan. And for those who’ve grown up steering Mario or Luigi to victory on their game consoles, this is the ultimate homage, a chance to step into the screen and live the game. Street go-karting offers an experience that will stay with you long after your trip is over.

This guide guide will walk you through the ins and outs of street go-karting in Japan. From how to book and where to go, to local perspectives and what to expect on the day of your ride. Sit tight; I’m going to guide you through everything you need to know.

Part 1: Which Driving License Do You Need to Participate in Street Go-Karting in Japan

First, you’ll need to be over 18 years old and get your driving credentials sorted. It’s not as complex as it might sound, and this guide will walk you through it. You will need one of those:

  • Japanese Driving License:

If you’re a resident in Japan, you might already have a Japanese driving license. This is the easiest way to qualify for street go-karting. However, for most visitors, this won’t be the case.

  • Foreign Driving License:

If you’re from Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Estonia, Taiwan, Slovenia, or Monaco, your home country license works, but with a twist — you’ll need an official Japanese translation.

  • International Driving Permit (IDP):

An IDP is what most foreign tourists will need. You must obtain this permit in your home country before traveling to Japan. The permit is valid for one year from the date of issuance.

  • How to Get an IDP: The process of obtaining an IDP varies from country to country. In the US, you can get one from the AAA for around $20 as of this writing. You’ll need to fill out an application, provide two passport-size photos, and show your original driver’s license.
  • Be careful though, Japan only recognizes permits issued under the 1949 Geneva Convention. This is crucial because your IDP will be invalid in Japan if it’s issued under the 1926 Paris Convention, the 1943 Washington Convention, or the 1968 Vienna Convention. Make sure to check this when you’re obtaining your permit.
  • SOFA Driving License:

If you’re a member of the U.S. military forces stationed in Japan, a SOFA driving license will suffice. Note that an American driving license with U.S. military ID is also acceptable.

Part 2: How to Book Your Go-Kart Tickets at Popular Locations

Once your license is sorted, you’re ready to secure your spot. Several companies operate these tours. Perhaps you’ve heard of MariCar, but they’ve had to distance themselves from that for trademark reasons. I’ll tell you more about that later.

And Go-karting tours aren’t just limited to Tokyo – you can also find them in Osaka and Okinawa. But since Tokyo is the most visited city, we’ll start there.

Mario Kart in Tokyo

The streets of Tokyo are full of variety and color, making them the perfect backdrop for your go-karting adventure. Here’s a comparative table of the go-karting options in the city:

LocationDurationPrice FromIncludedLandmarksOnline BookingReviews
(Tokyo’s manga & gaming district)
1 or 2 hours¥11,000CostumesAkihabara Electric Town, Mandarake Complex, Radio KaikanViator5/5
(Tokyo’s historical district)
1 hour¥16,000CostumesSensoji Temple, Nakamise Shopping Street, Sumida RiverKlook4.8/5
(Shopping & entertainment district)
1 hour¥15,00CostumesShibuya Crossing, Hachiko Statue, Yoyogi ParkViator5/5
Tokyo Bay
(Scenic coastal area)
1-2 hours¥17,690Costumes, Bluetooth SpeakerRainbow Bridge, Odaiba Seaside Park, Tokyo TowerKlook4.9/5

Go-Karting in Osaka and Okinawa

Street go-karting in the Osaka with Osaka Castle in the background
Street Go-Karting in Osaka near Osaka Castle

You can also find go-karting tours in Osaka and Okinawa, and each offers unique sights that make the experience well worth it. Osaka’s bustling streets and modern skyscrapers contrast with Okinawa’s coastal roads and tropical scenery. They provide different, but equally exciting, settings for your go-kart adventure.

Note: Always remember to read the fine print on each tour, especially the cancellation policy. Japan’s weather can be unpredictable, and although you technically can drive a go-kart in the rain, it might not be the most enjoyable experience.

Choose Your Costume:

When you show up for your tour, you get to the fun part: choosing your costume.

You might have dreamed of dressing up like a famous Italian plumber or his brother, but due to some trademark issues and expensive lawsuits, Nintendo characters’ outfits may not be available. Remember I mentioned MariCar above? Well, technically they don’t exist anymore, and Go-Karting companies cannot offer Nintendo costumes anymore. Here’s what happened.

Insider story time: What happened to MariCar?

You’ve probably heard about ‘Mario Kart in Tokyo’. This nickname came about because many Street Go-Karting companies in Japan leveraged the popularity of the video game Mario Kart to attract visitors, offering costumes of characters from the game.

However, this didn’t sit well with Nintendo. In 2017, they decided to sue one such company: Mari Mobility Development Inc., which operated under the name MariCar. The similarity in name—just two letters off and nearly identical in pronunciation—didn’t work in the company’s favor.

By 2020, after several years of legal battles and appeals, MariCar lost the case and was ordered to pay 50 million yen (approximately $475,000 at that time). Subsequently, the company rebranded itself as “Street Kart.”

But 2020 brought another challenge for MariCar—something we all know too well. With the onset of the global pandemic, Japan closed its borders to foreign visitors around April 2020, severely impacting MariCar’s chances of recovery post-lawsuit.

In an attempt to stay afloat, MariCar launched a crowdfunding campaign. Unfortunately, it was a failure. They aimed to raise 2 million yen (about $18,000), but ended up with a mere 11,569 yen (just over $100), supported by only 4 backers.

One critical error was using Campfire, a Japanese crowdfunding site, when their main clientele were foreigners.

Despite these setbacks, MariCar managed to survive. They reopened in 2023, coinciding with the return of international tourism to Japan.

Now, if you visit their website, a pop-up clarifies that they have no affiliation with Mario Kart and no longer offer Mario Kart-themed costumes for rent.

I hope you enjoyed this little background information. Now, let’s return to our main topic!

But don’t worry – there’s a wide variety of other fun costumes to choose from. And if you prefer, you can skip the costume altogether.

Group Street Go-Karting in the streets of Asakusa, Tokyo
Street Go-Karting in the streets of Asakusa, Tokyo

Part 3: Safety, Regulations, and Public Sentiment

I might be killing the fun here, but there’s one crucial aspect I couldn’t leave out of this guide: safety and regulations.

Road Rules & Safety

Street go-karting in Japan adheres to the same traffic rules applicable to all road users. In regards to the law, you’re driving a real vehicle on real roads. As such, you’ll have to stop at red lights, yield to pedestrians, stay within speed limits, and unfortunately, no, you won’t be able to throw bananas at other drivers 🙁

Safety instructions will be given before the tour, and following them is paramount to enjoy a fun and safe experience.

It’s also worth noting that helmets aren’t mandatory for go-kart drivers in Japan, but the rental shops may offer them for those who want to wear one.

Legal Regulations

To participate in street go-karting, you need a valid international driving permit (Class A) or a Japanese driving license, as I detailed in the Part 1 of this guide. There’s no room for negotiation here; it’s a requirement of Japanese law.

And of course, you cannot participate in the tour if you’ve been drinking.

What do locals think about it?

This is a question I get a lot. And if you read comments online, Japanese locals have mixed feelings about the go-karting phenomenon.

Some find amusement in this spectacle, sometimes waving at, smiling, or even encouraging participants.

However, not everyone is in favor. Concerns exist regarding noise and safety hazards, especially since drivers are visitors unfamiliar with Japanese traffic rules.

This lack of support was proved when MariCar attempted to raise money to stay afloat during COVID. They managed to get only 4 backers in total, and we can imagine they might have been the owners and employees themselves.

But the truth is, most people don’t really care. Kart tours do not go through residential areas, so locals will only see them when going to Shibuya, Shinjuku, or other big central areas. And a few small karts amongst the craziness of say, a Shibuya Crossing, are barely noticeable.

Overall, you don’t need to worry too much about it. Just remember to respect local culture, adhere to traffic rules, and follow safety measures to ensure go-karting remains a fun experience for both drivers and locals.

Part 4: Tips to Enjoy Street Go-Karting

What to Wear

You can wear a costume over your usual clothes, but depending on the season, you might want to adjust.

In summer, a T-shirt and shorts are recommended as the weather can get really hot. But in winter, layer up! Driving in the open kart can get chilly.

And regardless of the season, closed-toe shoes are a must.

Best Times to Go

street go-karting in the streets of Namba Osaka in the night
Street Go-Karting in Namba, Osaka during the night

The best time to go street go-karting really depends on the kind of experience you’re after.

Daytime offers excellent visibility and plenty of chances to wave at awestruck pedestrians. But I’d recommend going for the evening, though, to enjoy the city’s dazzling neon lights – a wholly different experience.

Capture the Best Moments

You might be tempted to snap a selfie while you’re tearing down the asphalt, but I’d advise against it. Remember the safety instructions? Keeping your hands on the wheel is one of them.

Instead, I recommend a body-mounted action camera to capture your experience hands-free. Some tour providers even offer action photos as part of their package.

Also, don’t worry about missing a good shot. The guides are pretty good at figuring out the best photo spots and will gladly help you capture those cool Instagram shots.

Part 5: Participant Reviews: What People are Saying

Street go-karting in Tokyo is more than just an activity – it’s an exhilarating, unforgettable adventure.

At least, this is what most reviews say. Here are some sentiments shared by other participants (reviews are from Klook and TripAdvisor):

This was a really fun experience driving over the streets of Tokyo! I would thoroughly recommend this for anyone who loves driving and wants a novel way of seeing the sights!

Street Go Karting Experience in Akihabara

“Best thing we did in Tokyo! Tour guides are great fun and elevate the experience massively. Felt safe the whole time as the instructions from the guides took all the worry out of it. Would definitely do again!

Small Group Go Kart Experience in Shinjuku

With a carefully planned itinerary and a guide always ready to capture those memorable moments, it seems like street go-karting provides not just fun, but also a great way to explore the city:

Great way to start the trip. It allowed us to drive around the streets of Tokyo to see what we wanted to go and see. The guide has planned a great itinerary and is always taking photos so you can remember your trip.

Street Go Karting Experience in Akihabara

The thrill of the drive, coupled with the iconic sights of Tokyo and the attentiveness of the guides, is enough to have some participants wishing to do it all over again:

Had a great time driving through Tokyo. The guide took great pics and was very attentive stopping and asking if we were OK. Would definitely do it again when I go back.

Street Go Karting Experience in Akihabara

And the experience isn’t just limited to the young or fit. As one participant points out, this is an experience for everyone, regardless of age or body size:

…I want to make a special mention that this attraction is suitable for all ages and body sizes. I am a 63-year-old guy who is heavy – 145kg (320 pounds)… if an old fat guy can ride this and have a good time, anyone should be able to.

Street Kart Shibuya

Part 6: Alternatives to Street Go-Karting

While street go-karting is a fun experience, it might not be for everyone, whether it’s due to personal preference or inability to meet the driving requirements. Luckily, Tokyo offers a myriad of unique activities for exploring the city:

  • For instance, you can opt for a cycling tour around Tokyo to experience the city’s hustle and bustle at a leisurely pace.
  • If you want a more traditional experience, rickshaw rides in Asakusa provide a unique and culturally immersive way to explore the city.
  • Alternatively, you might prefer a bird’s eye view of Tokyo. Helicopter sightseeing tours provide a stunning perspective on the metropolis, allowing you to marvel at the city’s sprawling landscape from a vantage point few get to experience.

Or are you looking for more fun pop-culture activities in Japan? Apart from street go-karting, the country is home to several anime theme parks that offer immersive experiences.

Wrapping It Up: Your Street Go-Karting Adventure

Driving around Tokyo’s bustling streets is thrilling, fun, and incredibly memorable. Here are the takeaways from this guide:

  • Make sure you carry your international driving permit to be able to participate.
  • The go-karting tours are available in various locations across Tokyo, but also in Osaka and Okinawa.
  • Depending on the package you choose, your tour might last anywhere from one to three hours.
  • Booking in advance is necessary, especially for groups or during peak tourist seasons.
  • Keep in mind the safety regulations and driving rules. Even though it’s fun, it’s a real road driving experience.

That sums up the go-karting experience in Japan. Now we’ll tackle the questions I’ve heard the most often in the bonus section of this guide.

Bonus: FAQ

Q: Is it worth it to try street go-karting?
A: To me (and looking at the reviews, to other customers), it’s a resounding YES. It’s a unique, memorable, and fun-filled adventure.

Q: Is a driving license necessary to participate?
A: Yes, you need a valid driving license to drive a street go-kart in Japan.

Q: Can I use my international or country-specific license?
A: Yes, both international and certain country-specific licenses are accepted, provided they are valid and appropriate for driving motor vehicles in Japan. Please check the Driving License Requirements section of this guide for more detailed information.

Q: How much does a street go-karting tour cost?
A: Prices can range from ¥8,000 to ¥15,000 ($55 to $105) per person, depending on the duration and route of the tour.

Q: How long does a tour last?
A: Tours can last between 1 to 3 hours, depending on the package chosen.

Q: When’s the best time to go karting?
A: You can enjoy go-karting at any time of the day. Evening rides can be particularly fun with the city lights on, but each time of day offers a unique experience.

Q: Do I need a reservation for the go-kart tour or can I just show up?
A: It’s always best to reserve your spot in advance. Most companies are often fully booked several days or even weeks ahead, especially the popular ones in Tokyo.

Q: I don’t have a driving license. Are there options like two-seater karts or alternate transportation methods?
A: No, unfortunately. Most companies offer only single-seater karts, and they don’t typically provide alternate means of transportation for those without a license.

Q: Are there age restrictions for driving the go-karts?
A: Yes, participants need to be at least 18 years old to drive.

Q: Are there any weight or height restrictions?
A: Most companies do not have specific height or weight limits. However, if you’re worried that you might not fit into the kart or that your feet won’t reach the pedals, it’s worth checking directly with the company.

Q: Can I bring my kids along? Are there two-seater karts available?
A: Most companies only have single-seater karts, so kids usually can’t participate as passengers. It’s always best to confirm with the specific company, just in case.

Q: What about the Mario/Nintendo based costumes I’ve heard about?
A: Companies are no longer offering Mario/Nintendo based costumes due to copyright issues. But don’t worry, there’s still a fun variety of costumes to choose from!

Q: How big are the groups?
A: Group sizes are usually around 6 to 8 participants, but some tours go up to around 15 go-karts.

Q: Are there safety measures like seatbelts?
A: Go-karts typically don’t have seatbelts as they are low-speed vehicles. Note that there’s always a English-speaking professional guide leading the group.

Q: What happens if there’s bad weather like rain or snow?
A: If the weather turns out bad, the tour might get canceled by the operator. In this case, you will receive a full refund.

Q: Can I cancel my reservation without charge?
A: Cancellation policies can vary by company. It’s best to check the company’s terms and conditions before booking for their specific policy.


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