Walking along the street feel a bit…slow? Getting on a bus a bit…enclosed? Then hitting the streets of Osaka in a go-kart might just be the adrenaline rush you’re seeking. Do up your seatbelt and let’s get ready to go.

Already popular in Tokyo, street karting is gaining fans in Osaka too. Just remember, though the experience might remind you of a certain video game, there isn’t a banana skin or mystery box in sight. Legal issues have seen to that. But that doesn’t mean you can’t go-kart to your hearts content and zip (at the speed limit) around in a non-descript ‘character costume’. Of course you’ll be driving on real-life roads with real-life cars, so you can’t just reboot if something goes wrong — only the sensible need apply.

Why Osaka though?

Dotonbori, Osaka
Photo by iStock.com/Nikada

Osaka is a neon nightmare, in the best way possible. It has an incredible number of illuminated signs, giant mechanical crabs and busy streets that’ll make go-karting feel like something from your childhood. While the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo is a great place to explore, sometimes size can work against you. Osaka is comparatively compact, meaning you can see more of the famous sites in a single tour.

On your drive you’ll be able to pass through areas like the old-fashioned Shinsekai and the entertainment district of Dōtonbori. If you’re visiting in winter, then the illuminations will make it especially amazing — we definitely recommend you pick a night tour if you can!

Go-kart in Osaka: How it works

Whether you’ve already tried it in Tokyo or this is your first time in a street kart, the process is pretty simple as long as you have the right paperwork.

  • Book your tour online.
  • Arrive at the meeting spot and go through a safety briefing.
  • Pick out your costume.
  • Hit the roads!

Remember though, not just anyone can take the wheel. You must have a valid driving license (see below for more details) to go-kart in Osaka.

Osaka go-kart tour options

mario kart in osaka
Photo by istock.com/sergeyryzhov

At the moment there is only 1 company currently operating in Osaka. They offer a 2 hour tour that will set you back ¥7,500 and you can book here. They usually include costume rental in the price, but they have may have paused this service due to COVID-19. If dressing up in ‘funny character costumes’ is important to you, contact them ahead of time to confirm. Or you can purchase your own costume to wear and it can double as a souvenir.

On your Osaka go-kart tour, you will cruise through Dōtonbori and Namba, before taking a break in Osaka Castle Park. Then you’ll pass by Tsūtenkaku Tower and Osaka Station as you finish off the tour.

What driving license do you need?

go-karting osaka
Photo by istock.com/roberthyrons

While you may feel like you’re in a video game, you’ll actually be driving on real city streets, sometimes up to 60km/h. So you’ll need a real-life driving license. The following 4 options are acceptable:

  • 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.

FAQs about go-karting in Osaka

You’ve got the questions, we’ve got the answers.

1. What about non-drivers?

Depending on the tour there might be an option for non-drivers to follow on with a staff driver so they can participate in the photo opportunities. Ask when making your booking. If not, just leave them at a cafe and tell them to wave as you roll by.

2. Is it safe?

You will be given safety briefings, but this is ultimately dependent on your driving skills (and admittedly those of the drivers around you), speed and style. Osaka’s streets are busy, and many of the road signs may be unfamiliar. It’s recommended you don’t join if you aren’t an experienced and confident driver. Note that you will be driving in a group. You can request an English-speaking tour guide if you like.

Also, helmets are not needed — if you want one, it’s a good idea to confirm availability with the go-kart company in advance.

There have been accidents over the years, including a hit and run with a cyclist, who fortunately was not seriously injured. It’s worth noting that local residents are not big fans of the go-karts at all.

3. What are these copyright issues I keep hearing about?

So, while it’s an obviously great concept, it turns out Nintendo were none too pleased with the idea of go-karts cavorting around with its branding pasted all over them and its characters at the wheel. The case went back and forth in the courts and the obvious Mario-related stuff vanished. At the end of 2020, a certain company lost their appeal — but they were not the only go-kart rental company in the market. You can still book through others.

You can experience a different kind of Mario Kart ride at the new Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Japan (in Osaka), which opened in 2021.

While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. Post first published in March, 2020. Last updated in September, 2022 by Maria Danuco.

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