When someone told me you could actually drive a go-kart through Tokyo while dressed as your favorite Mario character I really didn’t believe it. And apparently I’m not the only one….
Indeed, MariCar is a Tokyo-based company that is not affiliated with Nintendo, Mario, or anything having to do with the game that makes this activity so nostalgically amazing. I’m told this was all the subject of contentious copyright litigation. Evidently MariCar has some amazing lawyers.
Anyway. A group of friends from my command organized a 90-minute tour around the streets of Tokyo and it was on…like Donkey Kong. Oh yes.
We started in Yokosuka at the Navy Base and headed over to the train station. It’s about an hour and fifteen minutes to some place called “Akihabara”, which is the launch point for the trip. Meanwhile, “Akihabara” is super fun to say.
Navigating the Tokyo train system as a newcomer is not fun. I got through by repeating “now what am I supposed to do?” to my patient Japan-based friends each step of the way. This is far more desirable than actually learning the system.
Eventually we arrive at the MariCar location. They verify that you have an international drivers license and collect $50 – a small price to pay for a night of pure glory.
Now for the important part: picking a costume. I intended to go as a legit Mario character but the group was already saturated with Marios and Luigis. So, Jackie and I went with Toy Story.
Some members of the group were a bit more courageous and in no way is that a bad thing…
Having paid and dressed, we head out to the garage.
Now for the safety brief. The company rep asks us questions and gets a kick out of giving those who answer imaginary gold coins. As it turns out, they don’t allow you to throw bananas into the road, and this whole thing isn’t a race per se, its actually just a tour. Regardless, the entire time I’m fantasizing about living out all my favorite scenes from Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift. I’m sure it was a great safety brief.
We hop into the cars and they divide us into 5 person groups, each of which gets an assigned lead driver. Ours was sporting an amazing cat outfit and kinda didn’t speak English. This worked out perfectly.
Ready, set, go!
And there I was, driving through downtown Tokyo at sunset dressed as Sheriff Woody. It was fantastic. Unfortunately the initial rush didn’t last long, as our leader blew through a light just before it turns red, leaving half the group separated at a busy intersection. The cars straddle a busy intersection and the leader hops out to navigate the rest of the group to weave through a few cars and perhaps a bus or two. And that’s when I grabbed my camera…
Right about here is where it dawns on me: the fact that this whole thing is legal is a legit miracle. I mean, here I am making a mess out of local traffic without the slightest idea where I’m going and how to drive on the left side of the road…all while cars and busses go whizzing by just feet away. But, whatever. “Hey guys let’s get a picture!”
You’d think locals would hate everything about this operation, but quite the opposite seemed to be true. We found ourselves receiving applause and thumbs up virtually every step of the way. It was incredible. I mean, just imagine a business in the United States that encouraged foreigners to drive on legit city roads. It’s actually horrifying.
About 45 minutes into the trip we stopped at the Tokyo Skytree for pictures. I’ve already taken hundreds, but when you’re gallivanting around Tokyo dressed as Sheriff Woody this is just what you do. Besides, any given picture could be that magical Facebook pic that says “I’m an adult with responsibilities but I also like to party.” Cheese!
We hop back in and drive. The course is a mix of highways, cross roads, and narrow alleys, and the route is not self-explanatory. Indeed, during our picture break someone tells me his lead driver got lost and had to use Google maps to get back on track. I don’t recall this being an option in Mario-Kart, but then again this is MariCar, which is totally different.
As for speed, these things go about “60km,” which means nothing to me because I’m from America and don’t use the metric system. It was fast enough.
Eventually we hear the sirens of a cop car. But the sound is ridiculously loud. In addition to the siren I hear a man barking orders in Japanese from some megaphone. Apparently this is a regular thing here. Fortunately he wasn’t coming to arrest me (although being dressed as Sheriff Woody would make for a great mug shot…). This guy means business, so I make sure to get the heck out of the way.
About 90 minutes into the trip and we arrive at the garage where this adventure began. But we’re missing the fifth member of our group. None of us can recall how long she’s been missing. Uhh, whoops…
We notify our lead driver that a member of our group has gone missing. I’m guessing something got lost in translation, because immediatley his eyes light up with joy as he declares “THAT MEANS YOU WIN!”
Minutes later, our entire group was reunited safe and sound. Everyone provides assurances they will send the pictures they took.
Frankly, the trip was glorious. I cannot conjure up a better, more fun way to take a tour around Tokyo.
If you have a pen, put Real World Mario Kart on your bucket list immediately. And if you’re ever in Tokyo, run – don’t walk – to the magical place where they give you a car and a costume and let you tear up the city at night. I mean, the worst that could possibly happen is someone gets lost. And you know what that means?
THAT MEANS YOU WIN!