The options for seeing Tokyo are varied — from busy trains to taxis, and of course cheapo-friendly feet. But what if you want something different? How about riding a go-kart through the streets of Tokyo? Yes, this is something you can actually do! Read on to find out how.
Note: Legal issues and COVID-19 have been throwing banana peels at the various go-kart operators; however, go-karting is still possible. It’s also pretty cheap at the moment, with a one-hour guided ride starting at just ¥3,500, bookable online. More details below.
Go-karting in Tokyo: How it works
While go-karting around Tokyo sounds wacky and carefree, it is not the sort of activity you can just do on a whim. It takes some prior planning.
The first thing you need to do is confirm that you have the correct driver’s license (more on that below). You also need to be 18 years of age or older.
Then you need to book a tour online in advance.
At the shop, you’ll get a brief tutorial on driving the karts. (It’s different from a car, as you’ll use a different foot for the gas and for the breaks).
Before scorching the tarmac, you can stash your belongings in a locker at the shop
and change into your costume, which is often included in the price.
Update: Costume rentals are currently suspended because of the ongoing pandemic.
It is a tour, so the guide will set the pace and the route, so you don’t need to worry about taking a wrong turn and ending up in, say, Hokkaido.
Important!: Driving is on the left side of the road in Japan.
Also make sure to show up for your tour on time (or it might leave without you).
Tokyo go-kart tickets
Currently there is only one operator taking bookings at the moment, Akiba Kart. And there are only two course options: one-hour (¥3,500) and two-hour (¥6,000).
You can book online here.
Gas and liability insurance are included in the price. Be sure to read over the fine print, especially about canceling. There’s no reason you can’t drive a go-kart in the rain but you don’t really want to.
Getting kitted out to go-kart in Tokyo
If you’re going to zoom through the streets, you’ll need some accessories — either for safety or fun. Rentals typically include a face-guard mask and shades, to protect from dust or other irritants the street might kick up.
Sadly costume rentals are currently suspended due to the pandemic.
Following safety precautions
Riding through the streets at knee-level might seem a bit dangerous when confronted with trucks, boy-racers, and never-re-tested pensioner-drivers, but the rental companies do have safety measures in place. Accident insurance is included, and there are some general rules to follow that are designed to keep you alive that little bit longer.
- No racing allowed
- Dress appropriately: no heels, sandals, or long skirts allowed
- Follow your guide’s advice and route, including hand gestures and speed
Editor’s note: I have tried this (in the name of research) and frankly found it terrifying, even though the tour I participated in was conducted responsibly. Just that, well, riding through the streets at knee-level alongside trucks is terrifying. But everyone else seemed to be having fun, so I guess it’s just me.
What license do you need to drive a go-kart in Japan?
Although it might look like a game, this adventure takes place on real-life streets and is regulated by Japanese law. Anyone wanting to drive a “Mario Kart” in Tokyo will need to have one of the following:
- A full Japanese driving license
- An International Driving Permit (used with your passport and home country license)
- This permit can only be obtained outside of Japan and lasts for one year from the date of entry to Japan and/or issuance. It is easy to get, for example, it can be obtained from the AAA for around $20 in America.
- It must be issued under the 1949 Geneva Convention; the permit cannot be issued under the 1926 Paris Convention, the 1943 Washington Convention, or the 1968 Vienna Convention.
- A SOFA driving license for members of US military forces in Japan
- An American driving license with US military ID is also acceptable.
- A foreign driving license issued in Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Estonia, Taiwan, Slovenia, or Monaco. Residents of these countries are allowed to drive in Japan for one year from entry, provided they have a Japanese translation by an authorized organization. Bring these two documents and your passport with you.
What about the non-drivers?
If you can’t drive, don’t have the paperwork, or just don’t trust yourself (or others) on the road, you can still take part in the fun. There is sometimes an option for a non-driver to travel in a special tuk-tuk and convertible to take photos of the team. The boarding fee of approximately ¥3,000 may be waived if the person travels in the same car as the staff. If that isn’t available, you can always park yourself at a cafe along the driving route and wave as the go-karts cruise past.
A word of warning before you roar off
There have been a few incidents with people driving a go-kart in Tokyo, including a hit-and-run with a cyclist and some very, very dodgy driving on very busy roads. It can’t be stated enough that you need to drive responsibly at all times. Enjoy the experience, but keep in mind that you need to be extremely careful — and also respectful of your surroundings. Some go-karts have been getting on the nerves of local residents, so try to keep the peace.
Copyright issues: Mari Mobility (the old MariCar company) recently found itself in very hot water with a certain video game company. Fortunately for folks wanting to rent a street kart in Tokyo, they weren’t the only provider on the block.
While we do our best to keep things up to date, all prices and other details are subject to change. Last updated in June 2022.