Have you ever played Mariokart? Do you like gokarting and driving fast? This awesome this-would-only-happen-in-Japan activity called Maricar might be for you. Maricar was first recommended to me by my friend Tim, and since then, many of my other friends have done the tour and highly recommended it. However, out of maybe 10 of my friends, only one was not very impressed. It’s not for everyone, so hopefully I can help you decide if you’ll enjoy it.
Maricar is a gokart tour operated in various cities in Japan, where you dress up as a character of your choice (not limited to Nintendo characters!) and drive a high quality custom gokart, following an experienced tour guide throughout the city with a small group of people.
How to Book
- First, you need to get an International Driving Permit (IDP). Read this page carefully: http://maricar.com/license/#en
- I opted to get my IDP at AAA for $20 per person. I printed and completed the PDF application, attached a passport photo, and brought it to my nearest branch. I had to wait in line, but the it took the agent only maybe 5 minutes to make the booklet and collect my payment.
- Japan only accepts International Driving Permits issued under the 1949 Geneva Convention. Permits issued under the 1968 Vienna Convention are not accepted in Japan. Please ask for details if you are not sure about your license.
- Make a reservation through their Facebook page by sending them a message. They will send you a template message back asking for the following information:
- Which shop (Tokyo – Akihabara or Shinagawa, Mt. Fuji, Osaka, Okinawa)
- Which tour course (I’ll paste a copy of the message at the end of this post so you can get an idea, since the ones on the website are out of date now)
- Date and time
- How many karts/people
- Type of driver’s license and IDP
- After you make your reservation, they will respond back with a confirmation and very detailed directions on how to get to the shop. Save these instructions and don’t be late!
- Read their website carefully for any frequently asked questions you may have. The website is slightly out of date but still has a lot of good information.
- Give yourself plenty of time to get to the shop on the day of your tour. Even if you arrive early you can spend more time choosing your costume. 🙂
- When you show up, check in and pay (credit cards are accepted), choose your costume, and put your extra stuff in one of the free lockers. Bring your IDP and your phone/camera with you. I couldn’t find information on this before, but was happy to find there is a small neoprene pouch attached to the steering wheel of the kart by your right knee.
- Save Maricar’s phone number (+81-80-9999-2525) to your phone in the unlikely event that you get lost, you should pull over safely to the curb and call the shop right away so they can alert your guide and not have to send out a search team.
- Follow your guide’s instructions, don’t do anything stupid, and have fun!! Throughout the tour, your guide will take lots of photos for you on his iPhone, basically at most stoplights, and during rest stops. He’ll take individual photos of you too.
- At the end of the tour, your guide will Airdrop all the photos to your iOS device right away and give you a printed copy of a group photo to take home as a souvenir.
Night or Day Tour?
I HIGHLY recommend a night tour. Personally, I feel that Tokyo is most beautiful at night, due to the lights. Having been to Tokyo many times now, I’ve always felt that Tokyo is a city that really comes alive at night. Some buildings are a bit old so I feel like the view is not quite as amazing during the day. The only downside is that it’s harder to get good photos at night. I did not want to carry my heavy Sony A6000 with me, but maybe I should’ve.
I chose the 6 PM Course S-L departing from Shinagawa, hitting up Rainbow Bridge, Odaiba, Tokyo Tower, Roppongi, and Shibuya. This is the longest tour option of 3 hours for a total of 8000 yen (very reasonable in my opinion). In May, the sun has not set yet by 6 PM so I got to see the Rainbow Bridge and Odaiba during golden hour (this is a photographer’s term for the best lighting of the day the hour prior to sunset) AND see the beautiful lights of Tokyo Tower, Roppongi, and Shibuya at night. Shibuya at night is especially amazing. Dat crossing.
One of my friends asked, “Isn’t it more dangerous at night?” To this I say a big fat NO. This is Japan we’re talking about, and never once did I feel unsafe while following our tour guide. Once I realized that Japanese drivers are really polite (just like their culture) and kept their distance on all sides, allowing us to merge when needed (wasn’t needed often, maybe once), I was able to fully relax and enjoy the tour, and had no issues keeping up with my group of 6 karts.
Oh, and there was practically no traffic at night. Their message (copied and pasted below) recommends a morning tour due to smoother traffic, but I would strongly recommend the night tour.
Addressing My Fears
I have to admit that when I first sat down in the kart, I was immediately a little scared. The last time I drove a gokart was at the Livermore gokart tracks and I sucked. Kept running into the sides, had poor handling of the kart, skidded a lot, was overall the second slowest person in my company, etc. All of those memories came flashing back to me.
Not to mention, I HATE DRIVING and I especially hate flooring the car. I always make my husband drive whenever we go out. So when I sat down, I thought to myself, “Why did I just sign up to DRIVE for 3 hours?!” I was also scared for at least the following reasons:
- I would be driving a gokart and not a real car so the handling is different, what if I don’t brake in time and crash into something?!
- We’re in Japan where they drive on the left side of the road, so I’m not accustomed to that…what if I accidentally forgot and drove into oncoming traffic?!
- I can’t read signs in Japanese, the roads and signs and lights and lanes look really confusing, what if I break some traffic rules?!
- What if cars drive really fast and can’t see me because I’m so small and my head is at bumper-level?!
- Since I was such a slow gokart driver in Livermore, what if I get lost and left behind, and have no idea how to navigate the streets of Tokyo by myself?!
- What if what if what if…!!!!
These were the fears running through my head and I’ll be first to admit that I am often paranoid and think of a bunch of various horrible scenarios.
In the first 15 minutes of the course, we were pedal to the metal and flooring the karts on the Rainbow Bridge to Odaiba. I was still getting used to my accelerator and brakes and testing how hard I had to press them, etc. As a result, I was a bit tense and anxious because I HATE DRIVING FAST. I was afraid to take my eyes off the road to even look at my speedometer for a split second, but I’m sure we were going at least 60 kph which freaks me out in a gokart. Most of you are probably reading this, rolling your eyes and thinking what a scaredy-cat I am. 😛
The karts are very well built, way better than what I drove in Livermore. They have plenty of lights on them for visibility and a pole with lights on the end that sticks high up out the back of the kart so cars can easily see you. Like I said earlier, once I discovered how polite Japanese drivers were, and once I felt comfortable with the handling of my kart, I realized that it was very easy to follow my tour guide and not have to worry about what side of the road to be on or what lane to be in. Our karts were also really loud (like a lawnmower), so it was well known to pedestrians and drivers when we were around. A friend asked if I recommended earplugs – I didn’t think it was unbearable, and I’m not sure I would recommend earplugs since you should still be alert to sounds around you.
It also really helped that the tour guides are extremely experienced. Our particular guide had done over 600 tours and he knows the length of the traffic lights by heart (so he knows whether he can get our whole group of 6 karts through or not) and he even knows the bumps on the road like the back of his hand. We followed him neatly in single-file formation and pulled into a double-file formation at stoplights. Our group followed really well and was always organized and neat, like we’d been driving together our whole lives. The karts have turn signal blinkers and instructions were simple even for me to follow. Our guide checked back on us frequently to make sure we were always okay, and he was really good at keeping us all together. In general, he was really awesome. Everyone at the shop speaks fluent English and our tour guide was from Australia.
This section about fears is long because some of you may have some of the same fears. My fears were assuaged shortly into the tour and by the time the tour ended, I felt like I had fully enjoyed the tour and was totally pumped and exhilarated! Sure, there is always still a risk of getting run over or crashing, but I actually felt much safer than when I even drive my car in California.
My friend who wasn’t too impressed with Maricar had the following complaints, which I will help address below so you can avoid having the same complaints:
- Sun shining in eyes the whole time:
- Choose the night tour (which I highly recommend anyways), or wear sunglasses. More on the glasses part in a bit.
- Fun for about 15 min, then smelling the exhaust from the karts in front of you gets old real fast and you just want it to be over:
- Wear a smog mask! The shop can provide free disposable smog masks, but I brought my own. Most people didn’t find it necessary, but you can put it in your pouch in case you change your mind halfway through the drive.
The shop also can provide free goggles and helmet if desired. Nobody in my group wore a helmet, but if it makes you feel safer, go for it.
I definitely highly recommend wearing some kind of eye protection because you are often driving pretty fast, so a lot of wind is blowing in your face, maybe dust or bugs or debris too. If you wear glasses, that should be sufficient enough to protect your eyes from the wind (make sure your lenses are polycarbonate or other impact-resistant material; that’s the optometrist in me speaking!). I don’t recommend wearing contact lenses unless you also wear sunglasses or safety glasses, since they will probably feel very dry with all that wind blowing in them. Update: My friend said she wore contacts and didn’t think it was too bad. YMMV!
I personally think the smog mask is essential too. My friend’s complaint was valid – I felt like the exhaust was significant too. However, for some reason, I was the only one in my group who cared enough to wear a mask. Shrug. Besides blocking out the smell of the exhaust, I also felt that the mask was essential for keeping my face cleaner and prevent my lips and nose from drying out or catching bugs and other debris. So if you don’t care about the smell, at least consider that. 🙂
When choosing your costume, be aware that if you choose one with a hood, it will constantly fall off your head and fly back. With that said, most everyone chose a costume with a hood anyways, lol. But if you want your costume to stay on, choose one of the separate hats that velcro around your chin, like the Yoshi hat. One guy in my group had that and his hat never budged. Oh, and yes, they launder the costumes after you wear them. 😛 They are warm and I didn’t feel like I needed a jacket or anything even with all the wind. I was just wearing a t-shirt underneath.
One more pro-tip Tim told me before I left: if you have an action cam (like GoPro; I personally am a fan of the Yi 4K+ and the Sony FDR-X3000), use a head strap instead of a chest strap, otherwise your videos will be mostly of your steering wheel. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a head strap, so I used my chest strap but hung it around my neck, and that worked alright. For other kinds of cameras, I didn’t ever feel comfortable driving with one hand only, so I wouldn’t recommend recording with one hand and driving with the other. You can hang your camera/phone around your neck, or store it in the pouch and take it out during the red lights or rest stops to take photos. Your guide will take lots of photos too (around 40 photos during our tour) and Airdrop them to you too, if that’s enough for you. 🙂
I highly recommend this tour as a one-of-a-kind, unique experience, a new way to explore Tokyo even if you know Tokyo well. My tour guide said that Maricar exists because of loopholes in the law, but the routes have been shortened a bit due to police, and Nintendo did sue Maricar at some point for trademark infringement (I think they settled, you can google that), so I really don’t know if they’ll be around in the long term. If this is something you think you would enjoy, I’d recommend going sooner than later.
A lot of reviews mention that they felt like celebrities. This is so true — whenever we were stopped at a red light as a group in our two-by-three formation, pedestrians would take photos of us, passengers in taxis would roll down their windows and ask us how we got to do this, etc. People were so friendly and we definitely attracted a lot of positive attention everywhere we went!
My husband especially enjoyed this tour immensely. He got really into character as Bowser and made sound effects whenever we stopped at traffic lights, hahaha. We both said we’d want to do it every year if it still exists (maybe try another course next time). One of my friends did the Okinawa tour, which sounds awesome, and I’d definitely love to try it in other cities too.
The following was the message Maricar sent me, if it helps you choose your course (these courses are as of 5/13/17):
Thank you for your inquiry.
First of all, please confirm that you have a license that is valid in Japan again, just in case.
Please note that Japan only accepts International Driving Permits issued under the 1949 Geneva Convention. Permits issued under the 1968 Vienna Convention are not accepted in Japan. Please ask for details if you are not sure about your license.
What time is good for you?
For your information, here is a list of tours that we conduct.
【Scheduled every hour between 10AM and 8PM】
A-S1 course（about 60min）: Tokyo Station / Ginza
A-S2 course（about 90min）: Tokyo Skytree / Asakusa / Ueno Park
【Scheduled every hour between 10AM and 7PM】
A-M course（about 120min）: Rainbow Bridge / Odaiba / Tokyo Tower / Ginza
【Scheduled at 10AM, 2PM and 6PM】
A-L course（about 180min）: Shinjuku / Harajuku / Shibuya / Tokyo Tower / Roppongi / Ginza
【Scheduled at 10AM, 2PM and 8PM】
S-S course（about 60min）: Tokyo Tower / Roppongi
【Scheduled every hour between 10AM and 7PM】
S-M course（about 120min）: Tokyo Tower / Roppongi / Shibuya
【Scheduled at 10AM, 2PM and 6PM】
S-L course（about 180min）: Rainbow Bridge / Odaiba / Tokyo Tower / Roppongi / Shibuya
4000 yen/cart : A-S1,S-S
5000 yen/cart : A-S2
6000 yen/cart : A-M, S-M
8000 yen/cart : A-L, S-L
Prices include fees for cart, guide staff, costume, gas, insurance and tax.
Prices shown is the SNS/Blog Price (a.k.a Happiness Delivery Price). You can get this offer if you promise to review us on any SNS or Blog after doing the activity.
If you can’t decide which course to tour, we recommend touring from Akihabara Shop.
Course A-M is most popular, along with the shorter Course A-S2, which tours both modern and historical sides of Tokyo.
– Please tour from Akihabara Shop if you have six or more drivers in your group.
– Since we are currently revising our courses, it will differ from those shown on our website.
– Touring times may vary depending on traffic conditions.
– We recommend morning tours if you are flexible with times, since the traffic is smoother.
– All tours will have at least one break to use the restroom and take photos.
– We might conduct some tours out of schedule on certain days due to operational reasons.
– We will conduct tours even if it rains, but you can reschedule your tour to another date for no extra cost if you wish
You can find us here:
Akihabara Shop: 4-12-9, Sotokanda, Chiyoda, Tokyo
Shinagawa Shop: 1-23-15 Kita-Shinagawa, Shinagawa, Tokyo
Please reply to this e-mail/Facebook message with your course, date, time and number of the participants to make your reservation.
Since we often get fully booked, we recommend booking a month in advance.
We look forward to hearing back from you.
Thank you, that is great!
We have made your reservation.
Here are your booking details:
Date: Thursday May 11th
Time: 6PM (Please come by this time. Your tour will end at about 9:30 PM)
Shop: Tokyo (Shinagawa)
Number of Drivers/Karts: 2
Price: 8000 yen/person
(** The price includes SNS/Blog discount, which you can get our offer when you promise to review us on any SNS or Blog after doing the activity. **)
Please make your payment when you arrive.
You can find us here:
Address:1-23-15 Kita-Shinagawa, Shinagawa-Ward, Tokyo
Please check here for a map:
It takes about 12 minutes from Shinagawa Station (Konan Exit), and 3 minutes from Kita Shinagawa Station to walk here. Please plan to arrive at the station in advance.
If you are walking from Shinagawa Station, please be careful not to get lost. Pedestrian passages are complicated near the station. If you are a small group, taking a taxi from the station might be an option. You can find us behind the Seven Eleven.
If you are walking from Kitashinagawa Station, please note that express trains will not stop at the station. Please avoid walking through the railway crossing if it is closed, since you can get stuck there for a very long time. Please keep on walking to the next junction , turn left and walk underneath the overpass.
Since we might not be able to reply to you on Facebook or email in time, please feel free to call us at +81-80-9999-2525 in case you need help locating us.
Please be sure to arrive in time with your license.
You will not be able to drive in case you forget your license, and may not be able to tour in case you arrive late.
We look forward to your visit!
Appendix 2: Photos