It’s either that or “Oh, yea, I’ve seen them!” or “Surely that’s not legal!?” These are the reactions I get when talking about my job in Tokyo. Taking groups of up to six tourists around the centre of the world’s largest city in 50cc go-karts, showing them the sights on the way and hitting speeds of up to 60kph.
What is it?
Street Kart is the largest karting tour company in Tokyo offering anybody with an international driving permit the opportunity to take a one, two or three hour tour of the world’s wildest city with an accompanying guide.
That’s me, Matto, working at the Shibuya shop, as central as you can get in Tokyo and one of the most well-known branches. My job is simple; check your license, show you to the costumes, teach you how the karts and tour operates, then take you out for an hour showing you the sights along the way, keeping you safe and of course, taking your photos. Don’t expect it to be a “Mario Kart Tour” though; the company is not related to Nintendo, so there’s no Mario, Luigi or even Yoshi outfit available. Superman, Sully and Dragonball Z are the order of the day with loads more besides. There’s no banana skins or even flying turtle shells, but don’t let that put you off.
Where do you go?
The Shibuya store keeps it simple, cruising the streets of Shibuya and neighbouring Harajuku, two of the most fashionable and busiest places in Tokyo. They last an hour, which is long enough for a decent experience, however longer tours are available from different branches. Our tours are great for seeing the sights and getting as much attention as you can from curious onlookers lining the streets with their smartphones, waving wildly as we drive past. We even manage to hit the maximum speed of our karts on most tours, in between the lights.
These red lights aren’t all so bad though, offering our clients the chance to wave and smile at excited and often bemused onlookers. It gives me a chance to snap their photos, change the order of the group and of course, do my tour guiding thing – Shibuya is a much more interesting place with a few bits of knowledge along the way.
Did you know Shibuya “Scramble” Crossing is the busiest crossing in the world? We cross it three times on our tour
Shibuya Station is the second busiest in the world, after its brother Shinjuku a few miles north. Three million passengers a day pass through its doors.
Tell me about the Go Karts
The Karts themselves are nothing more than ‘flat scooters’; 50cc two stroke, steel framed go-karts built mostly in Taiwan and finished in Japan. Then, registered as “mini-cars” with numbers plates, they can hit the road perfectly legally – in Japan that’s having a driver with either a Japanese driving license or an international driving permit available from your home country. Get it before you come – it’s really depressing to turn people away for a paperwork issue.
To be honest, 50cc is more than enough in such a vehicle – they’ll hit 60kph on the flat, a little more down a hill. Any quicker and you’re getting a speeding ticket. I’ve have times, most days in fact, where I’ll be with my group in the vicinity of a Lambourgini or a Ferrari and the pedestrians on the street barely take stock of it, instead in awe of our little karts, a situation probably helped but the brightly colored onesies people are wearing as part of their experience. Who takes our tours? I’d love to say “anyone and everyone – its a real mix!” But I can’t. Really, a third of the clients are Millennials from Melbourne, and the other half a mix of the usual Japanese tourists – curious Americans, Korean students, middle-class Asians and Irish rugby fans looking to check it off their list. Most interesting clients? I personally just missed Jensen Button or Filipe Massa who came weeks before I arrived.
Is it fun?
Is it scary?
Many people are nervous before heading out, no doubt. But after only a couple of minutes in the kart, people settle down and realise how easy to control they are, and how well the guide is doing their job. One of the most rewarding things is taking a client who is particularly nervous and showing them the best our of their trip by conquering their fear.
How do I get involved?
To take the tours, it’s easy, book it online through Facebook or Email searching for MariCar Shibuya. Wanna become a guide? That’s a bit more difficult; but not impossible. Working holiday visas are quite obtainable for Japan, and once you have that, get in touch with the company and they’ll see if you have the beans.
If you’re interested in visiting Japan or wish to know more, the JATA registered Adventure Tourism Company is here to help with useful travel advice and a booking service making your trip to Japan hugely enjoyable. Check out theadventuretourismcompany.com