Every tour we have been on in Japan, from climbing Mt. Fuji to driving go-karts through the streets of Tokyo, have been dominated by Californians. So much so, that a stupefied New Zealander asked the California climbers if we have a state holiday at the end of June.
“Why are you all here right now?” She eyed us suspiciously, as if we were part of a mass exodus conspiracy. I wanted to joke that we were escaping Trump’s masticated presidency but that was too realistic of a scenario so I just shrugged in response.
I was as surprised as her to find that half of the twenty climbers were from either San Francisco, San Diego, or Los Angeles. Of course while the rest of the party were residents of hip Los Feliz or Atwater Village, Michael and I were the only duo from the characteristically un-hip San Fernando Valley. Our group of six MariCAR drivers were also all from Los Angeles. And again, the four of them were from trendy West LA and us from the mom-jeans and Walmart epicenter of LA.
MariCAR is hands down the must-do activity for first-time visitors to Tokyo. There is no better way to experience the energy of the city than to zip through traffic in a go-kart. And doing so in full costume is the quirky cherry on top of this wacky sundae of sightseeing.
The tour options range from one hour to three hours. The one-hour tour is 6,000 Yen per person (roughly $54) and you drive by the Tokyo Tower and through Shinagawa. The two-hour tour is 8,000 Yen per person (roughly $72) and you drive by the Tokyo Tower and through Roppongi, Shinagawa, and Shibuya (where you drive through the World’s Busiest Crosswalk). The three-hour tour is 10,000 Yen per person (roughly $90) and you drive by the Tokyo Tower and through Roppongi, Odaiba (where you get to test the speed limits of your go-kart as you drive on the Rainbow Bridge and see the bay), Shinagawa, and Shibuya. We booked the three hour tour at sunset (tour started at 6:30pm and ended at 10pm) and it was incredible. Seeing the cityscape at night lit up and sparkling is breathtaking and this is the tour option and start time I would recommend to get the best experience.
MariCAR was Michael’s heaven. Dressed up as Mario from the Super Mario Brothers video game in a full-body onesie (headgear included), he roared down the jammed Tokyo streets in a bright red go-kart, pumping his fist and screaming “Itsa Mee, Mario!” at the top of his lungs as pedestrians gawked, waved, yelled back in appreciation, and scrambled to get their cameras out for photos and videos. At The World’s Busiest Intersection in Shibuya, it was as if a Hollywood celebrity appeared. A row of cameras were trained on Michael as our caravan of eight go-karts crossed the intersection. Michael did not disappoint. Like a male peacock extending his feathers to show off for females during mating season, Michael waved in all directions, striking poses, hollering, and revving his engine. If honking wasn’t taboo in Tokyo, Michael would have been laying down on that horn non-stop.
As we made our way through Tokyo, I marveled at how this tour would never fly in the U.S. There are no seat belts, the go-kart can get up to 60mph, you’re driving in the heart of Tokyo traffic with cars, busses, and trucks, on the opposite side of the road, and the only requirement to participate is a passport and an international driver’s license. The two-minute instructions that the tour guide provided to us at the beginning of our drive showed how to turn on the go-cart on, switch the gear to drive, remove the parking break, signal a turn, and the location of the the gas and brake pedals. When I blanched at this brevity and asked him when we would get to practice, he bemusedly smiled at me and said “On the street.”
While the first thirty minutes were shaky, I got the hang of the go-kart and relaxed into the drive, enjoying the scenery and attention from bystanders. We drove in a single file line but doubled up at red lights. Since Michael and I were the first set of go-karts in our procession, we were the primary models in the photos the guide took throughout the tour and I was pleased.
“Michael, we are going to have so many photos of Mario and Bugs Bunny! I can’t wait to post them.”
Michael scrunched up his face. “Who’s Bugs Bunny?”
“What do you mean who is Bugs Bunny? Me! I am Bugs Bunny. That’s the costume I chose. See, blue body, white belly, red bunny tail in the back.”
“Ok. And where are your bunny ears then?”
“You know I was wondering the same thing! I think maybe they forgot the ears.”
“Kasey, why would there be a random western Disney character costume if all of the rest are Japanese manga, anime, or video game characters, with a few superheroes sprinkled in?”
“I’m Bugs Bunny, dammit.”
After the tour when I posted my photos, I was informed by more than one person that indeed I was not Bugs Bunny.
A friend from Argentina replied to my Instatory photo of me in my costume. “Hi Kasey, you’re not Bugs Bunny, you’re Doraemon.”
I was deflated and had to investigate this Doraemon to find out who the hell I was wearing. My mood quickly lifted when I read that Doraemon, from a manga series by the same name, was a robot cat who travels back in time from the 22nd century to help a boy named Nobita. The name “Doraemon” can be translated roughly to “stray”. What a perfect fit for this cat lady. I made a mental note to buy some Doraemon paraphernalia for the house. Maybe I could even find the onesie I wore on the tour to use as my winter pajamas.