Have you ever felt like walking along a street is just a bit…slow? Getting on a bus a bit…enclosed? If so, then driving a go-kart through the neon city of Osaka might help you reach the heady adrenaline heights you apparently seek.
Already incredibly popular in Tokyo, Maricar (as it was formerly known) has now become Street Kart—and there isn’t a banana skin or mystery box in sight. Now available in Osaka, the unusual activity combines sightseeing (but not too much, keep your eyes on the road!) with go-karting, and the chance to feel a little bit like a celebrity and a videogame character all at once. Needless to say, it’s taking place on real-life roads with real-life cars, and you can’t just reboot if something goes wrong—so only the sensible need apply.
Why Osaka though?
Osaka is a neon-nightmare, but in the best way possible. It has an incredble amount of illuminated signs, giant mechanical crabs and busy streets that’ll make karting feel like a hidden track on the newest release. 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 shorter tour.
Areas like the old-fashioned Shinsekai, the entertainement district of Dotonbori and the glorious castle can all be seen in one hour-long tour. If you’re visiting in winter, then the illuminations will make it especially amazing—we definitely recommend you pick the night tour if you can!
Street Kart in Osaka: How it works
Whether you’ve already tried it out in Tokyo or this is your first time, 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!
For a discount, we suggest you book ahead with Voyagin. They offer savings of around 25% for one- and two-hour courses.
Remember though, not just anyone can take to the wheel. You must have a valid driving license (see below for more details).
The karting course options
There are two main companies operating in the Osaka area and both offer pretty similar tours (since Osaka isn’t that big). The main decision is whether or not you would like an hour or two to tour the streets. The karts, costumes and prices are otherwise pretty similar, so have a look at which version suits you.
Option 1: Street Kart
The same group running the main Tokyo venture, Street Kart offers two courses that take you around the sights of Osaka.
The regular course lasts between 1.5–2 hours and takes you through Nakanoshima, Shinsaibashi, Dotonbori and Namba. You can choose between day or night rides (we suggest evening if you really want to see Osaka at its best) and the course costs ¥9,000 per person, with an option to reduce it to ¥7,500 if you provide social media reviews.
The long course goes for 2.5–3 hours and adds a few more top spots to your itinerary: Umeda and Osaka Castle (or Osaka Aquarium). Combined with the original locations you’ll get a full tour of the city and enjoy the crowds of Umeda—it’s basically Osaka’s Shibuya. This course costs ¥11,000 with the chance to bring it down to ¥9,500 if you provide social media reviews.
Option 2: Akiba Kart
Also running in Tokyo, Akiba Kart offer a 2-hour course including driving guidance and a tour of the city sights. While they don’t offer much explanation of the route, it’s expected to take you through the main sites, from castle views to neon streets. The tour costs ¥9,000 or ¥8,000 if you provide social media reviews afterwards. The available 2-hour timeslots start at: 12 pm, 12:30 pm, 3 pm and 6 pm.
Remember: To get yourself a good discount, and for easy online reservations, we recommend booking your go-kart tour of Osaka through Voyagin.
Although you’re no longer able to select Mario-themed costumes from the campanies, you can choose from an array of fun options from Santa to superheroes. You are also able to provide your own costumes; no word on what happens if you turn up dressed as Bowser though. Safety items like helmets, goggles and masks are provided free of charge, while an action camera is available to rent for a few hundred yen per hour from Street Kart.
What license do you need?
While you may feel like you’re in a videogame, you’ll actually be driving on real city streets. Hence, you will need a real-life driving license. Similar to the Tokyo firms, the following four options are acceptable:
- A full Japanese driver’s license
- An International Driving Permit (with your passport and home license)
- This permit can only be obtained outside of Japan so you will have to apply before your trip. They cost around USD $20 in the US and last for one year after entering Japan.
- 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 (applicable to US military members)
- A driving license issued in the following countries: Switzerland, Germany, France, Belgium, Taiwan, Slovenia or Monaco along with a certified Japanese translation and your passport. Note that these passports can be used in place of an international permit for one year following your entry into Japan.
All your FAQs about go-karting in Osaka
You’ve got the questions, we’ve got the answers.
1. What about non-drivers?
Street Kart offers an option for non-drivers to follow on with a staff driver so they can participate in the photo opportunities. This option costs ¥3,500 with a ¥500 saving if you provide social media reviews later.
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). Surprisingly, there have been no major incidents involving these karts—aside from one who hit a cyclist and fled, leading to his arrest, although the victim suffered only minor injuries—so people must be doing something right. We don’t reccomend joining if you hold a license, but aren’t experienced. You will be driving in a group, you will have a leader and you will have a helmet.
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 Tokyo with its branding pasted all over them and its characters at the wheel. The case has been back and forth in the courts and the obvious Mario-related stuff has vanished from these companies. While you can’t borrow or buy a Mario costume from the kart companies, you can bring your own.