We set off on the go-karts from Shinagawa, me as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and Helena as Tigger. Our tour guide pulls away, followed by 4 young guys in our group dubbed “Team Korea”. “Team London” (the two of us), follow up the rear. All is going well until 400 yards in, Helena’s kart is flagging and she pulls over to the side of the road. I stop just ahead and wait at the pedestrian crossing, my engine idling, feeling like a bit of a plonker sat in a go-kart on a main road in Japan dressed as a cartoon character, with onlookers and their prying eyes.
Tigger is sat at the side of the road with her hazard lights on, in the hope they give her toy car some clout with a Tokyo bus now sitting behind her and expecting her to do something. Just before the bus driver loses it, she gets it into gear and trundles along to join me and we pull up to the next T-junction, bus crisis averted.
Helena starts to panic. “The group has left us” she says, “what are we going to do?”. Being the calm one, I coolly reassure her “well the group are just going to come back for us”. “But what if they don’t?” she says. Before Raphael and Tigger descend into a meltdown, our guide comes jogging round the bend dressed as Pikachu to ask if we are ok. And so we rejoin the group and our seven go-karts snake along the street, with engines screaming into the night.
We move into a busy part of Tokyo, with the Tokyo tower lit up and looming in the distance, like a poor man’s Eiffel Tower. It’s actually still quite impressive, but my mind is now more focused on the lorry driver right up behind me blowing his horn. Pikachu has not been quick to pull away at the lights and this guy clearly doesn’t have any patience for people having fun. I give him a cursory glance; if this turns into full blown road rage, I just haven’t covered that section in Japanese for Beginners yet.
Before the tour started we were given a brief by the guides about what to do in different driving situations, delivered in a serious tone, while we all sat in our ridiculous onsie costumes. If we get overtaken, we should not try to race with the BMW, rather our guide will pull over and we will then just rejoin the group. We are told to keep the group together by leaving just one kart’s distance between each of us. We are also told not to beep our horns too much or use full-beam lights, “we don’t want to wake the cops” we’re told. Before booking this tour I googled it and saw that a Taiwanese customer had been involved in a hit and run while on a tour and the police had charged him. Note to self, if I hit someone or something don’t just drive off without stopping, this isn’t a video game where you can hit the restart button.
30 minutes into the tour we take a comfort break and have a quick drink at a rooftop bar seeing the Toyosu Fish Market and Disneyland Tokyo in the distance (Helena definitely wishes she was there rather than here). Pikachu informs us that we’ll now be heading onto Rainbow Bridge. As we get to the bridge it starts with a long upward slope sweeping round and everyone must have their accelerator flat to the floor, as we are all buzzing along at 40km/h. Unlike the Rainbow Road course in Super Mario Kart, this road does at least have sides to it, so there’s not much danger of us barreling over the edge into oblivion should we misjudge a corner or get shunted by another vehicle.
Now it’s possible that this tour could be a great way to see the city, looking out from the bridge to the Tokyo skyline, except that I’m keeping my concentration on the road because there is a 40-tonne lorry overtaking me on my right and even though the potholes are not large, they cause the small go-kart to twitch left and right on the road.
Onto the second half of the bridge and we all still have our right foot flat to the floor, my speed dial is now in the red, with Helena 30 yards in front. I see our leader in the distance on the road sweeping down and around, with the first of Team Korea just a kart’s length behind him, both going 75 km/h+. Bit of a disaster waiting to happen if you ask me! Tipping is not customary in Japan, but in our briefing we are told that our guides do accept tips, so I think that our guide might be travelling at double the speed limit aiming to fulfill Team Korea’s boyhood dreams in the hope of getting several thousand yen in return.
We pull up at the traffic lights at Shibuya crossing, Tokyo’s iconic intersection where up to 1000 people can cross at a time. Our guide tells us to high five, so cringing slightly H and I carry out a really lame high five that can be caught on Pikachu’s camera. Again Pikachu is working for tips and taking photos of us all almost every time we stop at traffic lights.
We’re sat there, all of our engines idling at the crossing, and I can just feel my lungs filling with the exhaust fumes. Team Korea are all wearing the white face masks that seem to have taken off in Asia much more than back home. Now is the first time in my life where I think I could do with one right now. Team Korea ask Pikachu if we can take another pitstop and so after a few minutes we stop at a convenient place for us, but pretty inconvenient for the traffic trying to pass us. Scooby Doo then rushes off to the toilet in a bar, followed by Sesame Street’s Elmo (I think). Clearly all this excitement has got to them and their bladders have been overworked.
We pull up alongside a section of road construction. The Foreman doesn’t look all that happy, he’s probably just started his shift and has a long night ahead. He looks at the seven of us various cartoon characters and I expect him to detest us, except that he just lets out a little laugh and smiles. Whether the sight of us muppets cheered up his night a little, laughing with us or at us, who knows! Helena reminds me of the tourists who cycle around London on the mobile bar drinking beer, holding up the traffic and generally being raucous and annoying anyone going about their daily business. We might just be those annoying people.
Eventually all seven of us pull up at Shinagawa, pretty exhausted after 2 hours of driving, all happy to have survived the trip. I understand the company has been in a legal case with Nintendo over a copyright issue. The company was originally marketed as Maricar and customers drove around dressed as Mario and Luigi; I mean that sounds nothing like Mario Kart if you ask me… Given the danger involved I can see why Nintendo wouldn’t want anything to do with it!
Post go-karting we head home via a gyoza spot, after working out that we need to put money in the vending machine to get served, then the gyoza and rice are delivered to the table. Amazing.