Riding Through the Streets of Tokyo. In a Go-Kart. In Costume.

by Laura Sanders

When we were discussing our itinerary for  Tokyo with my sister Hannah, she gave us a number of different options. The zoo and the Sky Tree and the Great Buddha all came up. Kappabashi Street, which I was very excited about. One thing not optional, according to my brother-in-law Dan, was Maricar.

Maricar is attempt to recreate the experience from the Mario Kart games. Only you’re actually driving a go-kart through the streets of Tokyo. They also give you a costume so you look like one of the characters. This combines two things I hate the most: driving and traffic. Three if you count being run over by a truck while wearing a silly outfit.

My sister Rachel was on the fence like me. Scott really wanted to do it, and my brother-in-law Derek wasn’t going to be denied. Hannah said it wasn’t really her thing either, that she was nervous the first time she did it, but she said once you start riding around, you don’t even think about what you’re doing. I didn’t entirely believe her.  But I knew the guys were looking forward to it so I reluctantly agreed.

There was one stipulation: we had to get our International Driver’s License. I figured, hey, it’s just cool that I’m getting an International Driver’s License, so we went by AAA and got the permit.

INternational Driving Permits

The night before we were supposed to go do this crazy thing, I was feeling nervous. No, lets be honest, terrified, so I went to discuss it with Hannah. She said I would be fine, that the two hours went by like nothing. It would be dark by the time we got to the end but the lights in the city would be amazing.

Wait. What? Two hours?

First, did I mention I have night blindness? Whenever there’s driving to be done at night, I let Scott do it. Second, two hours? Third, did I mention night blindness?

Two hours, I said. Two hours? I looked at Scott. He was just as surprised as I was. Hannah struggled for words. I’m sure she said something reassuring, but I couldn’t hear it over my pulse pounding. Two Hours. Driving. Go-Kart. Night. Big trucks running over members of my family one-by-one. And sure, Dan’s a surgeon, but could he manage to stitch us together after all that?

That morning before we left, Hannah came to me and said it was all right, I didn’t have to go. The guys could go and the girls could do something else. She suggested we go to Shibuya Crossing to watch the boys as they sped by to their deaths. Well, that’s what I heard her say, anyway.

I looked at Rachel. She said, “It’s all right, Lo. We can do something else.” She didn’t mean it, though, I could tell in her voice she really wanted this experience.

We went to the Tsukiji Fish Market that morning and we had a great time, but it was still hanging over me. Rachel really wanted to do this, and if I didn’t do it, she wouldn’t. Since she had been diagnosed with breast cancer, she was determined to make it over to Japan before she started her treatment.

I began to think, Rachel is about to go through something incredibly scary. When we get back she has to go through months of treatment.  In the depths of chemo, while she’s sitting in that chair getting drugs pumped into her body to kill off this disease, she can look back to this day and say “I drove a go-kart through the streets of Tokyo.”  Whatever anxiety I might have had didn’t even compare.  I took a deep breath, pocketed my fears, and followed my family into the abyss.

The group in front of us snagged the Mario, Luigi, and Yoshi costumes, so we made use of the leftovers. I just wanted to get it over with, so I reached into the rack and pulled out whatever was the least sweaty. Scott went with Tigger. Rachel sensibly decided against a costume. Dan went with Princess Peach because of some deep-seated childhood trauma we know nothing about. Derek was wearing something that looked closest to a Mario outfit, and Hannah went with Eeyore. Thankfully, I remembered to grab goggles for everyone right before we walked out. We were clearly going to need them.


Our guide was telling us how to run the go-karts before we left but it was hard to hear him with the headline American Tourists killed in horrific Go-Karting Accident screaming in my head.  Eventually, with a pep talk from Dan, I got the beastly machine moving forward in the right direction. And then we were off. Scott had his GoPro, filming the whole thing. I questioned the filming: did my Mother really need to see the ghastly way I was about to leave this world?

Along the way, pedestrians smiled and waved at us. Scott had noticed before we left that he didn’t see one Japanese person doing this. Of course not I said, the Japanese are extremely intelligent people. Although this activity was clearly something strictly for crazy tourists they seemed to love you for doing it.

The Essence of Dan

Hannah said that eventually I would lose the fear of “getting run over by a bus” thing and start enjoy myself. I loved her for trying and she was partially right.

About five minutes in I glance at the sticker below the steering wheel, it read: Vehicle has to be driven only with sufficient protective clothing. Use a Safety Helmet!


I’m pretty sure a Tigger costume and hat did not constitute as safety gear, but what do I really know?

Then, there were moments when we would come to a halt and have a few minutes to look around. The city lights, the cherry blossoms, the people, the scent of food and fuel mixed together, and a little voice would say, “You are driving through the streets of Tokyo in a go-kart.” Yeah. I am. And it was cool. No. It was awesome. I was doing something most people will never get the opportunity to try.  Most people will never have the opportunity to travel to Tokyo, let alone do this. Then I would notice the giant bus two inches from my left and realize the error of my ways.

I got to drive through Shibuya Crossing in a go-kart. Drive through a tunnel at speeds I dare not mention in case my mother reads this story.

Sorry, Mom. I love you.

When it was all over, Scott asked me if I would do it again. I thought about it for a few moments, and replied, “Yes. Yes I would. But I’d be just as terrified as I had been this time.”

However, isn’t that the benefit of facing your fears? Sometimes you just have to do it, so when you’re going through something really hard down the road, you can look back and say, “I did that. I can do anything.” Thank you Hannah and Dan for providing us with the opportunity to take a trip of a lifetime. Thank you Scott and Derek for having nothing but excitement about our travels. Thank you Rachel for inspiring me to face my fears.

Laura in Costume

By the way, can somebody write in and tell me what I’m dressed as? None of us know.

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