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MariCar – the Street Cart Experience!

MariCar is something of a phenomenon in Tokyo, as more and more people dressed in their favourite characters or heroes take to the streets and zoom through Shibuya’s famous intersection, in front of crowds looking on in curiosity, admiration or even disbelief.

MariCar’s concept has been such an acclaimed success (if not somewhat due to MarioKart), they have expanded not only all over the districts of Tokyo, like Akihabara, Shinagawa and Asakusa, but greater Japan too. Now you can experience this insane carting event in the likes of Yokohama, Osaka, near Mt. Fuji and even Okinawa.

Of course with huge success comes challenges too, and MariCar has certainly had its fair share not only in terms of legal battles but also a number of incidents that have been published across the Japanese and International media.

Nonetheless, the company continues to reel in success with more and more customers, and with the tourism boom still growing, it can only be good for business.

MariCar’s Shibuya Branch

So, of course, we here at FAQ, while admittedly quite late, had to go and check out what all the commotion was about. Thus a bunch of us decided to head down to the Shibuya branch of Maricar ready to put the pedal to the metal.

Arriving at the garage we were greeted by Hito (Osaka born and bred), who greets us with a cheeky smile and proceeds to give us the grand tour. He shows us around the carts, the locker area and also to the wardrobe that would fulfil any kids dream on Halloween. In front of us was a dresser with a huge range of costumes, including superheroes, video game characters, cartoon mascots, Mario and more.

Ready to hit the streets in our cosplay attire, we then gather around Hito who takes us through the operation of the cart including the different pedals, aceelerator and brake, the indicator (blinker) switch and the gears for forward, neutral and reverse. After a fairly standard safety briefing, the whole group joins in chorus with Hito to the chant of ‘DON’T DIE’, such is the confidence of MariCar’s staff.

Off We Go!

We finally make our way to the carts, hop in, and while a little nerve-racking at first, we start up the engine and the sound instantly gets my adrenaline pumping. We pull out from the side of the kerb and make our way through the back alleyways of Shibuya, before making our way onto one of the more open roads.

The accelerator pedal really requires some effort to get any kind of acceleration, but once you’re going then the feeling is a pretty thrilling exhilaration. The brake pedal is a touch sensitive on my cart, and so my recommendation would be to play with it initially to get a better feel for how much pressure you need to come to a full stop.

At first, we make our way through the large Scramble Crossing, and being a weekend it was a real head turner, as we are greeted by waves, smiles and many just simply filming the footage on their phones. In some instances, people were even making vocal enquiries in between stops to the staff, about where they can grab their grubby little hands on a cart, so it was a first-hand experience to see how much buzz the activity really creates.

The course continued along another road parallel to JR’s Yamanote line, before hitting Omotesando and Harajuku. While some of these intersections were not as crowded as Shibuya, it still earns its fair share of looks and pointing from children and adult MarioKart fans alike, in which we naturally need to reciprocate with grins from ear to ear.

The cart’s suspension is rough, to say the least, and the city roads are even more unforgiving, as you can feel most dips, patches and bumps through your legs, ass and spine. Of course, this is the initial 2-3 minutes of driving, once you’re on the road and passing through a number of crossings you soon forget, negotiating the streets of Tokyo in the glory of your costume and new found personality.

Along the way, Hito and another guide use every intersection and stop possible to take happy snaps. MariCar photos aplenty from the front, back, in groups of 2, 3 or the whole group posing to fill not only their Instagram account but for the memory banks and precious memories of the customers to relive the thrills of their experience.

Heading Back to Safety?

As we head back towards Shibuya, we once again stop at Scramble for another fleeting moment of fame and fortune greeting new passers-by.

Driving through to the end of the road, one of the group is suddenly cut off by a Taxi, who blasts out from nowhere forcing her to slam the brakes for fear of her life. It is fair to say that the karts have earned some enemies over their time on the streets of Tokyo. Especially, Taxi drivers who have been known to drive aggressively in the presence of carts, so we caution everyone to be careful on the streets, especially the more crowded main roads of cities like Tokyo and Osaka.

As we turn into the back alleys once again, we realise we are on the home stretch back to the shop, we slowly make our way up the hill and into the last turn before parking in front of the shop HQ. We all get out safe, satisfied and in one peace, we pose for a final group photo before relinquishing our false identities to the store’s wardrobes.

We close the tour off with expressions of gratitude, laughter and immense satisfaction to Hito, as we then leave and venture off to find a late lunch to fill our famished bodies.

To take part in all the fun the MariCar Street Cart Experience has to offer, you will need at least your passport and driver’s license and international licence (for some countries), plus additional documents. For a full explanation of your required documentation, you can check their website.

To book one of these amazing adventures be sure to stop by MariCar’s facebook page.

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