Go-Karting the Streets of Toyko – Is It Safe?

When exploring the streets of Tokyo, you might spot a weird and fun sight in the traffic – a fleet of go-karts, dressed as Mario or Yoshi (or even Captain America), zooming around through traffic. This is Street Kart (formerly MariCar), a real go-karting experience that you can do through the traffic of Tokyo!

tokyo traffic mario kart costumes street karts maricar

The Street Kart experience through Tokyo

It looks like awesome fun! It’s the real life Mario kart experience – 50cc engines, silly costumes, messing about with friends. But as I’ll get into later, there is legally no relation to Mario Kart. Don’t expect checkered flags, powerslides and throwing bananas at people, however. There are strict rules to maintain safety, because these are public roads, shared with cars, trucks and pedestrians. And yes, accidents have happened.

Rules, routes and guides

There are several courses that the racers can choose from, ticking off some major sights around Tokyo. It also keeps people from getting lost in one of he world’s biggest metropolises. Common stops include the Shibuya Crossing, the Tokyo Tower, Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo Bridge, and Tokyo Bay. For safety, one guide takes the lead, whilst another brings up the rear. The lead guide indicates by hand if the karts should form up into single file or two-by-two, depending on the traffic. And to prevent tomfoolery, the karts must stay in their set order, with overtaking not permitted.

There are add-ons that the racers can rent as well, such as an action camera, illuminated shoes, and some pop culture costumes. There are lso bluetooth speakers on each kart, to listen to your own music. You’ll need a driver’s licence and passport to take a kart out on the street. A normal drivers licence or IDP is fine.

Are Street Karts in Tokyo scary?

I’ll start by saying I’ve never tried Street Karts. Despite multiple visits to Tokyo, I’m too much of a chicken to brave the traffic. So, I’ll look at some other sources to help us out.

Well, apparently the experience can be pretty hair-raising for some. The kart is pretty much the height of a car door handle, which, as you can imagine, presents all kinds of visibility and blind spot issues. An article by Vox describes the mayhem of being a rider.

In the article, staff joke about not killing anyone or dying before setting off for their group tour. They’re only half joking – there have been accidents. One kart rider was formally charged for a hit and run against a cyclist, and other incidents include damage to parked cars, and mounting a curb to run into a police box. In fact, this article by Japantimes reports 50 accidents in 2018 alone. On top of that, seatbelts and helmets are not required (while they can be rented).

What do they locals think? From the above recounts, other motorists seem to either be indifferent to the karts, whilst others are terrified of crashing into one. Others actively hate the karts, and have been known to antagonise them. Pedestrians, however, love to see the karts whizz past, and it’s definitely a way to get noticed on the street!

Nintendo sues MariCar – and wins

In February 2017, Nintendo sued MariCar for copyright infringement, winning 50 million Yen (over USD$450,000) in 2019. The name itself, MariCar, needed to be changed. It was a direct reference to the Japanese nickname for Mario Kart.

With Nintendo notoriously protective of its properties, and MariCar registering more than a few accidents, it’s not surprising that the video games giant wanted to distance itself from the karts and potential for traffic accidents.

Now, Street Kart is careful to point out that they are in no way affiliated with Nintendo, and won’t provide Mario-themed costumes. Signs are stickered everywhere to say they are not associated with Nintendo. You can, however, rent a fake moustache (and of course, you could come pre-dressed as Mario or Bowser)!

But let’s face it – they still remind us all of Mario Kart!

***

Riding video game karts through the busy streets of Tokyo, taking in the neon billboards, skyscrapers and rainbow bridges of the city is an amazing way to experience the energy of this amazing place. Have you done Street Karts before? Was safety an issue, or was it too much fun to notice? Let me know in the comments below!


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