The Dangerous Reason Tourists Should Steer Clear Of This Go-Kart Attraction In Tokyo

If your bucket list for travel includes driving a go-kart around Tokyo in a onesie, you may want to reconsider, if only for safety reasons. These go-kart tours first gained popularity among tourists as a real-life version of the "Mario Kart" video games, complete with pajama-like costumes themed to the characters Mario, Luigi, and Yoshi. It isn't unusual to see a small fleet of cosplayers on karts, driving past landmarks like Tokyo Tower or idling at stoplights around the teen-friendly travel spot of Shibuya. However, in 2020, Nintendo, the maker of "Mario Kart," successfully sued one tour operator, MariCar, for intellectual property infringement.

Since then, MariCar has rebranded under the name of Street Kart, ditching the Nintendo-themed costumes for superhero onesies. What it and other tour operators now offer is a more off-brand activity that could be fun but also dangerous. In 2018, when Street Kart ranked among Japan's best activities and tours on Tripadvisor, police recorded no less than 50 go-kart accidents on Tokyo's streets in an 11-month period. Of those accidents, 43 involved foreign go-kart drivers. One was a hit-and-run where the driver, a tourist, struck a cyclist.

These issues returned post-pandemic with the reopening of Japan's borders. In 2023, police in Tokyo received over 100 complaints about go-karts violating traffic laws and causing noise disturbances, per The Japan Times. Even if you plan to be responsible behind the wheel, driving alongside cars in traffic in a low-riding go-kart could still come with some potential safety hazards.

Driving a go-kart on the street leaves you exposed

According to The Japan Times, most go-kart drivers in Tokyo are Europeans or Americans, the latter of whom will need to reorient to driving on the left. You'll also need to adjust to working the accelerator and brake pedal with two different feet. If you're not wearing sunglasses or a face mask, you may have bugs or dust flying in your eyes, and you may be breathing in exhaust fumes from the vehicle ahead of you. This isn't that different from what you'd experience driving a motorcycle, except most tourists you'll see on go-karts in Tokyo aren't wearing helmets, either.

Even with a seatbelt, it leaves you low to the ground and potentially vulnerable to the wheels of aggressive motorists, who could be intent on crossing into your lane and getting between you and the other karts in your tour. Maybe that's why more than one Tripadvisor review describes the experience as "unsafe," with Tokyo Cheapo calling it "terrifying" and a writer for Vox saying they briefly thought they would die. With the tour operator Monkey Kart, if you get in an accident and it's attributed to your reckless driving, you could still be held liable for the damages even if you paid for insurance coverage beforehand. In 2023, Tokyo saw a dozen rear-end collisions on go-kart tours, where people were also running red lights or getting out of their karts to take pictures while waiting for the light to change.

Take a Sky Bus tour or visit Super Nintendo World instead

To join a go-kart tour in Tokyo, a Japanese driver's license or international driver's permit is required, unless you happened to be from Taiwan or a handful of European countries where licenses themselves are accepted with an accompanying translation. If you qualify for a go-kart, you might also be able to simply rent a car in Tokyo. Another option is to do a Sky Bus tour, where you can have an open-top experience like you're in a convertible, but without having to worry about navigating or reading Japanese road signs.

On a SkyBus, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy some of the same sights you'd see on a go-kart tour. This includes Tokyo Tower and the Rainbow Bridge, which usually features a white lighting pattern that's less colorful than Rainbow Road in "Mario Kart." With some Sky Bus routes, you can also see real-life landmarks demolished by Godzilla onscreen.

Since Street Kart has disassociated itself from Nintendo — even going so far as to put signs on their go-karts emblazoned with the words "Unrelated to Nintendo" — your next best option might be the official Mario Kart theme park attraction. You can find it in Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Japan, which has helped make Osaka a major city trending for travel. If nothing else, you're probably much less likely to get injured on a Universal Studios ride than on a go-kart in open traffic in Tokyo.