If I were to sum up Japan in a sentence, I would describe it as a cauldron of curiosity and weirdness, topped off with a dash or two of quirk. I mean, what other country has hotels run by robot dinosaurs?
But those things pale in comparison to the greatest – and possibly scariest – thing to come out of Japan since the Japanese bidet: real-life Mario Kart.
Speeding around the streets of Tokyo in tiny go-karts while dressed up as your favourite fictional character is the dream of many Mario Kart fans and I can confirm that it is every bit as good as it sounds on paper.
It was also 10 times scarier than I initially bargained for.
The go-karts pack enough grunt to get you up to 80km/h at the blink of an eye, which would normally be fine if not for the fact that seatbelts are optional and these vehicles are nothing more than a flimsy metal frame where the “bumper” is literally just a pool noodle and your knees are the crumple zones.
But all these worries quickly dissipate when you fire up those go-karts for the first time and begin the drive through Tokyo. The sound of those little things pushing to the limit, the smell of burning petrol, and the wind running off your face is just intoxicating, so much so that you’re able to (mostly) ignore the stinging cold that comes with driving an open-air go-kart during the Japan winter.
Now here’s where my real-life Mario Kart experience goes pear-shaped.
Due to the lack of facial cover, my contact lenses dried quicker than water on concrete during an Australian summer and fell out of my eyes within the first 15 minutes, rendering my vision from 20/20 to “why even bother having eyes”. Couple the loss of contacts with the fact that my drive was scheduled to run from 6pm to 9pm, I was basically driving around Tokyo for 2.5 hours at night time while half-blind.
Getting chased around by Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees is terrifying. This is a level beyond that.
Not only was the world a literal blur of colours and lights, I wasn’t able see the important hand gestures issued out by the tour guide, all while I and 11 other go-karters were powering along the streets at around 50-60km/h on average. My brain entered a new realm of white-knuckled concentration in trying to make sure I didn’t accidentally rear-end the bloke ahead of me because my sub-par eyes misjudged the braking zone.
During certain speedier sections – such long sweeping runs over bridges and lengthy tunnels – those go-karts got up to 85km/h and you were one pothole away from spinning out into a wall or into the freezing Tokyo bay water. Let’s just say I was glad I wore brown pants underneath my Piccolo costume that night.
But for every bowel-relieving moment experienced during that blurry drive, there was an equivalent rush of adrenaline and exhilaration that made everything worth it.
Sure my stomach dropped right out of my body when I hit a misplaced speed bump at 70km/h, but I also got to drive though the famous Shibuya crossing with the nighttime crowd’s surprised eyes all on me. Somewhere out there is a random Japanese person’s phone filled with photos of cold and secretly-mortified me dressed in a Piccolo costume while driving a go-kart.
While my heart rate had more spikes than a cactus, especially when a huge truck sped past me in the next lane, I also got to drive past landmarks like Tokyo Tower and Rainbow Bridge. Granted that I may not have been able to properly see and appreciate the full beauty of these places, I have it on good authority that it was all stunning. At least the photos all looked lovely.
So in summary of the real-life Mario Kart experience – Colder than being naked on Antarctica, high risk of accidents and death, shenanigans and a numb butt, and a stunning tour of Tokyo for the able-eyed.
Would 100% do it again, but with glasses instead of contacts and about 10 more layers of clothing next time.