MariCAR! Go Karting on the Streets of Tokyo

We’re in the US for our annual family visit until mid-August, so I’m taking the chance to catch up on some recent experiences in Japan that I didn’t blog about at the time. First up: MariCAR go karts, that tourist and gaijin (foreigner) rite of passage.

My friend Nina came for a visit in May, her second time in Japan. I told her about MariCAR go karting, and she was all over it. So on a balmy Saturday night in May Nina, my friend Caroline, and I headed down to MariCAR’s Akihabara location, driver licenses in hand [scroll to the end for details on that].

We chose our costumes….IMG_9320

…and our rides.

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The streets will be closed to traffic, right?, asked Nina.

Nope, I replied.

Silence.

OK then!

….and off we went.

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The streets were definitely, absolutely *not* closed to other cars. There were moments of sheer panic and a whole lot of How Is This Possibly Legal.

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We zipped. We zoomed. We waved and posed for the photos of passers-by. These go karts have been around for a while, so I assumed that most Tokyoites were Over It. But apparently not!

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After two hours of fun we headed back to the garage, where we posed for one final, triumphant shot of our own….

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…and one with the next crew, a group of Korean students decked out in their superhero and Japanese schoolgirl finery.

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Pro Tips!!

Location and Time

MariCAR has several locations, and each one has its own website–and in English! I chose a two hour tour in Akihabara starting around 5PM, assuming that we would see some cool neon as dusk settled in. And we did! By the end of our tour it got a little dark and slightly scary to drive, so if I do it again I will definitely aim for finishing before sunset like we did.

For you Yokohama locals, MariCAR now has a Yokohama location. Find details on their Facebook page.

Driver License

You absolutely must have a license that is valid for driving a car on Japanese roads. The exact requirements vary depending on what country issued your driver license, so check the MariCAR website for the exact specifications. If you are a foreigner visiting Japan then the easiest is probably getting an International Driving Permit–but you have to get it before leaving your home country.

Tour Guide

Book a guide! Even if you know the streets of Tokyo well, you probably don’t know them well behind the wheel of a stinky, 49.3 cc engine vehicle. Focusing on driving and occasionally, you know, looking around took most of my focus. I can’t imagine paying attention to navigating as well.

Our booking did not come with a guide automatically, but thankfully the other two people on our tour booked the guide. We paid a little extra and joined them, and I’m so glad we did.

Another friend booked through the same company a few weeks later and her tour guide was included. So check to make sure you have a guide when you book.

MORI Building Digital Art Museum

Last week my friend Mani and I took our kids to the latest must-see in Tokyo, the MORI Building Digital Art Museum in Odaiba, Tokyo. It’s the newest exhibition from teamLab, and a permanent installation. The museum fills 10,000 square meters (!), projecting trippy light shows onto mostly black surfaces while piping in a Cirque de Soleil soundtrack.

We wandered. We played. It was awesome! The photos and videos speak for themselves, so let’s just go straight to those.

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Some pro tips if you plan to visit the Tokyo exhibition:

  • Buy your tickets ahead of time! You will be turned away if you show up without tickets; we saw it happen. Right now tickets are selling out about two weeks in advance, and they release more tickets every few weeks. So check the website for MORI Digital Museum online tickets sales early and often.
  • Eat before you go in. There is no cafe or gift shop of any kind, and you’ll spend 2-3 hours on your feet in very crowded spaces.
  • Don’t wear a skirt; some exhibits include mirrored floors. There are loaner skirts (ick) outside the exhibitions in case you forget.
  • Don’t wear open toed shoes or you’ll be sent to the rental shoe (BLEEH!!) counter. There are a lot of stairs and uneven surfaces, so solid footing is essential.

teamLab also has exhibitions in Singapore, Paris, Helsinki, and other cities in Japan, so check out the teamLab exhibition listing in case you happen anywhere near those cities.