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 around Osaka might help you reach the heady adrenaline heights you apparently seek.

Already popular in Tokyo, street karting is gaining fans in Osaka too. Though the experience might remind you of a certain video game, there isn’t a banana skin or mystery box in sight. Legal issues might have seen changes to the line-up of go-kart providers, but you can still book easily online. Rates start from around ¥4,000.

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 game 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?

Dotonbori, Osaka
Photo by iStock.com/Nikada

Osaka is a neon nightmare, but 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 on a shorter tour.

Areas like the old-fashioned Shinsekai and the entertainment district of Dotonbori can be combined. 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!

Pro tip: For a great rate, we suggest you book your go-kart experience with Voyagin.

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

The main decision is whether or not you would like one hour or two hours to tour the streets. The go-karts, costumes and prices are otherwise pretty similar, so have a look at which version suits you when making your booking.

On your Osaka go-kart tour, you can cruise through Namba, take in Dotonbori, Tsutenkaku Tower and the Kita-shinchi area, with your exact sightseeing list depending on whether you book one or two hours. The meeting point is near Namba Station. You’ll get the address once your booking has been finalized.

You can also rent a go-kart and ride around Kyoto. Again, to get yourself a good deal, and for easy online reservations, we recommend booking your go-kart tour of Osaka or Kyoto through Voyagin.

Accessories

Go Kart Helmet
Photo by istock.com/sergeyryzhov

You can choose from an array of fun costumes at the store. Safety items like helmets, goggles and masks may be provided free of charge, while an action camera like a Go Pro is often available to rent for a few hundred yen per hour.

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. Hence, you will need a real-life driving license. 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 one of the following countries: Switzerland, Germany, Estonia, France, Belgium, Taiwan, Slovenia or Monaco, along with a certified Japanese translation and your passport.

FAQs about go-karting in Osaka

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

1. What about non-drivers?

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), opening soon.

While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change. Post first published in March, 2020. Last updated in January, 2021.

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