Although I was never much of a gamer growing up, I did have my moments. A big one was Christmas 1996, when my siblings and I (for reasons I no longer remember) became relatively early adopters of Nintendo 64.
Our favorite game? Mario Kart, as I imagine was the case for many people currently in their mid-to-late 30s.
The bad news for 90s kids like us? Due to legal issues, no Tokyo street kart tour is able to use Mario paraphernalia in the marketing or execution of its product. The good news? Driving a go-kart around Tokyo is still the closest you can get to Mario Kart in real-life.
Why Mario Kart Go Banned in Tokyo
From its launch in the mid-2010s to just before covid-19, the Tokyo Mario Kart tour was just that. You could dress up as your favorite Nintendo characters, and the company offering the tours marketed them as such. Unfortunately, Nintendo’s 2017 lawsuit ended up being successful, leading the tours to re-brand as MariKar; they had to give away all their Mario-related costumes in favor of much more generic ones.
While the company appealed the court ruling in 2020, it unfortunately lost that as well. As a result, when Japan reopened post-pandemic, any semblance of Mario was gone from the company’s branding. The various outlets around Tokyo are now known as STREET KART; although you can dress in various costumes, these are secondary to the experience of the karts themselves.
How to Ride a Street Kart Through Tokyo
Book well in advance
Japan is bursting at the seams in the wake of covid-19, and that doesn’t look to change anytime. Once you decide which date and time you want to drive, as well as which location (popular ones include Akihabara and the Tokyo Bay shop, from which you can cross the Rainbow Bridge), go ahead and lock in your tour.
Get your international driving permit
Every participant in a Tokyo go kart tour needs to be licensed to drive in Japan, which means having an international driving permit or IDP. If you’re American, you can get this at any AAA office. Just make sure to bring a valid US driver’s license with you!
Clear your schedule
The street kart experience will take at least an hour—on the road. However, you’ll also need to reach whatever shop you choose, and leave some time at the end to find your way back to your hotel, assuming you aren’t so hyped up after driving that you need a drink. I recommend availing at least 3-4 hours, when all is said and done.
To photograph or not to photograph?
Your Tokyo Mario kart tour will include the option to rent a GoPro, which you can strap to your head and use to capture your entire drive. However, you may also choose to bring your own phone or camera to take pictures, although I warn you: You won’t stop often, so there might not be many opportunities to do this. The choice is yours!
Make peace with wearing a lame costume
Mario costumes haven’t been available on Tokyo street kart tours for many years. The costumes that currently exist are less than inspiring, if I’m totally honest, to the extent that I might not even recommend that you wear one, unless you find one that really suits you.
Is a Tokyo Street Kart Tour Worth It?
Would you believe that I’ve considered—many times—reprising my own Mario Kart experience in Tokyo? This didn’t happen in 2022 because the company that operates the tours had not resumed them; in 2023, I’ve been too busy with other activities. However, I’d say there’s a pretty great chance that I’ll take another tour in 2024 (this time at Tokyo Bay, I think), which should tell you everything you need to know about whether taking one of these tours is worth it.
If you’re on the fence about taking a Tokyo go kart tour, ask yourself why. Is it the price? This can be hard to grapple with, although it’s currently at its lowest rate in years, thanks to the weak Japanese yen. Is it the idea of driving in Tokyo? Well, as long as you haven’t had anything to drink and aren’t too jet-lagged to function, you should be fine. If you just can’t get over not being able to dress like Princess Peach, however, I really can’t help you!
Other FAQ About Driving Street Karts in Tokyo
Is it legal to go karting on the streets of Tokyo?
Although companies offering street kart tours of Tokyo have faced various legal challenges over the years, the tours remain legal as of late 2023. The key thing to understand is that you won’t be able to dress up like characters from Mario Kart, intellectual properties around which were at the core of the aforementioned lawsuits.
Can you still go-kart in Tokyo?
You can still go-kart in Tokyo, so long as you’re over the age of 18 and have an international driving permit, or IDP. However, you won’t able to wear Nintendo-related costumes, which can be a bummer if you want to live out your Mario Kart fantasy.
How much does it cost to go-kart around Tokyo?
Depending on which Street Kart location you choose and which specific experience you select, you can expect to pay somewhere around or just north of 100 USD for a street karting experience on the streets of Tokyo. The price may raise or lower slightly, depending upon the current USD-JPY exchange rate.
The Bottom Line
A Tokyo street kart tour may or may not be what you’re expecting. For starters, the companies that operate them are no longer allowed to use Nintendo branding, which means you can’t dress up as Mario or Peach as you zip beneath the Tokyo Skytree or over the Rainbow Bridge. Secondly—and this is more my opinion than a hard-and-set fact—the karts go much faster than you’re expecting, and there’s nothing separating you from actual street traffic. This makes the entire experience exhilarating to the point where it’s sometimes scary. Want to make sure your trip to Japan hits all the right notes? Commission a custom Japan itinerary today.