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The king of souvenirs in Japan is probably chopsticks. You can buy them everywhere, they’re cheap, don’t take up space in a suitcase, and are actually practical when you miss Japan and want to stuff yourself with sushi after returning home.

But there’s one problem: you’ll quickly realize they don’t remind you of the great times you had in Japan as you thought they would. 

That’s because a cheap (or even expensive) trinket bought in two minutes at a souvenir shop rarely holds the sentiment you’re looking for.

No, you need to attach some kind of emotional value to your souvenir.

It could be as simple as a train ticket you kept in your wallet for the entire trip. That ticket was annoying to always carry, but now when you look at it, you’re reminded of the good times. It’s covered in stamps and a bit battered from all your adventures, but that’s what gives it value.

Obviously, you don’t want to keep chopsticks in your wallet for the whole duration of your trip.

So what about making them yourself?

Chopstick on a table in Mogami Kogei workshop in Kuramae, Tokyo
Hand-made chopsticks at Mogami Kogei workshop

That’s what I did at Mogami Kogei, a traditional woodworking workshop in the heart of Tokyo. The experience is offered by Wabunka, and let me start by saying I absolutely loved it. I’ve been living in Japan since 2019 and working in the Japan travel industry for just as long. I’ve seen countless similar activities, but this one was by far the most authentic experience I’ve had the chance to take part in.

(Disclaimer: I’ve also worked with Wabunka as a freelance, so I know the company well).

Wabunka curates cultural and traditional experiences. All experiences are private, meaning it’s only going to be your group. They work with renowned Japanese venues, artists, teachers, and artisans. Since most of them don’t speak English, Wabunka assigns a licensed national guide for interpretation.

So when I got the chance to participate in one of their experiences, I jumped at it.

The Chopstick-Making Experience

You can book this experience online on Wabunka.

I actually made a short video about it, you can watch it here:

@yavajapan

I think i just found the ultimate souvenir to bring back from Japan😳 Mogami-san was such a kind soul, honestly the experience is as much talking and learning from him as it is about making chopsticks 😌 Mogami-san’s English is not bad but limited so we had an (amazing) guide with us translating and helping us discuss with the master ✌️ Honestly it was the best workshop I’ve done so far in Japan, really impressed👌 If you want to do it when you’re in Tokyo you need to book ahead inline, the website name is Wabunka #japantravel #tokyotravel #handwork #woodworking #chopsticks #japanthingstodo

♬ original sound – yavajapan

My group arrived at the location and met our guide, Saori-san. Kind and extremely knowledgeable, I knew I was in for a great time when she greeted us warmly and introduced the workshop and its owner, Mogami-san.

A humble man of small stature and a round face, he showed us around the small entrance of his workshop, which doubles as a storefront and exposition space for some of his creations.

Mogami-san uses a traditional Japanese woodworking technique called Edo Sashimono. As you can imagine with traditional techniques, they’re not doing so well, and Mogami-san is one of the last craftsmen to use it.

Basically, this technique doesn’t use nails to attach pieces of wood together. Instead, it uses a clever system of interlocking wood pieces to create objects. This intricate joinery method results in strong and beautifully crafted items.

Lamp made with edo sashimono technique at Mogami Kogei workshop in Kuramae, Tokyo
This lamp was made using Edo Sashimono technique

Chopsticks are just a single piece of wood, so they don’t use this technique, but Mogami-san was kind enough to show us some of his more complicated creations and current projects (a makeup and accessory box for a Kabuki actor).

Mogami-san and Saori-san led us upstairs to tour his workshop. It was just as I imagined: it smelled like wood, there were lots of tools I had never even seen, and it was a mess that would make Marie Kondo faint. A true craftsman’s workshop.

Before starting the chopstick-making experience, he offered us traditional outfits, which I happily accepted as I looked ten times cooler than usual in them.

Mogami Kogei workshop in Kuramae, Tokyo
We all got to wear a traditional workwear outfit

We then sat at the table where Mogami-san had prepared the materials for the experience.

The lesson began with Mogami-san’s clear instructions and the help of our amazing guide, Saori-san, who translated everything.

Honestly, I thought it would be a piece of cake. Oh boy, was I wrong.

I should have seen it coming though—I struggle with IKEA furniture way more than I should.

Chopstick making manual Mogami Kogei workshop in Kuramae, Tokyo
Visual explanations of the chopstick-making process

First, we had to choose our wood. We had the choice between cypress, oak, and several other types of wood. I went with oak.

Then Mogami-san showed us how to chip at the corners repeatedly to shape the chopsticks. We started at the top, then the bottom, and repeated the process to make them smaller and rounder.

Next came the sanding to make them completely smooth and to round the top and bottom of the chopsticks. Mogami-san kindly instructed that ‘they should look like Tokyo Dome’ referring to its iconic rounded dome.

And finally, the finishing touch: lackering. This transformed my chopsticks from a piece of raw wood to a masterpiece.

Mogami-san, owner of Mogami Kogei workshop in Kuramae, Tokyo
Mogami-san applying lacquer to his chopsticks

Clumsy as I am, I messed up at every step. Fortunately, Mogami-san was always able to fix all my mistakes. Even though my own skills were responsible for probably around 1% of the work while Mogami-san actually did the other 99%, I ended up with beautiful chopsticks I can be proud of.

Chopstick-making experience in Mogami Kogei workshop in Kuramae, Tokyo
Proudly did 1% of the job 🙂

And all the while, we got the chance to talk with Mogami-san and hear his stories – about how his grandfather worked in the same workshop, about his son who’s an apprentice in a different workshop in West Japan but who’s going to take over the Mogami Kogei workshop someday, about the state of his industry, and all the questions that came to our mind when we were not too focused on chipping at our chopsticks.

After the experience, we bid farewell and walked back to the closest station with Saori-san. She explained that Mogami-san was at first worried about providing the experience to non-Japanese speakers. He’s shy by nature and was concerned it would be hard to carry the experience with people from a different culture.

But he decided to give it a go, and Saori-san told us he now thoroughly enjoys it. 

Who is This Experience For?

Needless to say, I really enjoyed this experience.

Please not that if you’re already good with your hands though, you might find making chopsticks a bit easy. And if you already know how to make your own chopstick, and have the tools to make them back home, you probably won’t learn anything new here.

But I think anybody will enjoy spending time with Mogami-san, no matter what. He’s a master craftsman with 47 years of experience at the time of writing. I’ll let you imagine how much you can learn from him. And even though he’s shy and might not seem like a big talker, don’t hesitate to ask him a lot of questions. He’ll be more than happy to answer.

One last note: chopstick making experiences are very kid and teenager friendly, so it will be perfect for families looking to do something special while in Tokyo. And if your kids are into manual work, they’ll absolutely love it.

How to Book this Chopstick-Making Experience at Mogami Kogei Workshop?

This experience is offered by Wabunka. They work directly with artisans like Mogami-san, design the experiences, and provide a guide. You can book online on their website.

More Information

You can read my article about the best chopstick-making experience in Japan here.

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
Akihabara
(Tokyo’s manga & gaming district)
1 or 2 hours¥11,000CostumesAkihabara Electric Town, Mandarake Complex, Radio KaikanViator5/5
Asakusa
(Tokyo’s historical district)
1 hour¥16,000CostumesSensoji Temple, Nakamise Shopping Street, Sumida RiverKlook4.8/5
Shibuya
(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.