Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Japan trip Spring 2017 Part 6: Day 6 - Tokaido Shinkansen back to Tokyo and MariCAR Street Go-Kart Tour

On March 29, we were on our way back to Tokyo! We had previously reserved tickets for a shinkansen leaving Shin-Osaka at 09:16 and thankfully, we had no issue making that train and being on our way. We woke up, packed up anything we didn't pre-pack the night before and did our best to tidy the Airbnb/return it to the state it was when we started.

With our bags, we started making our way down to the station, stopping at 7-Eleven, Lawson and Family Mart along the way to get snacks and breafkast.

Even though it's a 12-minute walk to get to Shin-Osaka station, it was nice that we had an abundance of conbini options along our way since we caught the shinkansen a lot.

We still had plenty of time before our train, so my bf stopped to look around the station for more to eat.

We made our way to the shinkansen tracks and the train was already waiting for us. We were catching another Hikari-type shinkansen since we were going in the same direction as Day 5! This time we're Shinagawa-bound.

Mt Ibuki again since no Mt Fuji lol.

Took pictures of my Liz Lisa stamp cards because I can't imagine another time I'm going to have three pink cards at once :O

We arrived in Shinagawa at around noon and went to the hotel to drop off our bags and pick up the new pocket wifi.

I was hungry and had an errand to run for a friend, so I headed out to Nakameguro to get something to eat!

Seirinkan is somewhat of an old favorite now.
The margherita pizza is so good, especially the saltiness of the crust. The pasta always seems to take so long to come out though.

My bf had his own errands to run with the remaining time we had in Tokyo, so we separated at the train station and he went on his way while I made it over to Traveler's Factory!
I didn't end up getting any pictures inside the store because it's a bit tiny and there were actually a lot more people in there than I expected (one of which was standing right in front of what I wanted for about 2-3 minutes while I just stood stupidly behind her) but I was able to get the main thing my friend wanted at least!

Since I hadn't done much snack omiyage shopping yet due to all the moving around, I knew this was the day to tackle it! I went over to Harajuku where it was crowded AF.

Actually stopped at Liz Lisa first lol. Again, it took wayyyy too long to get there wtf.

I didn't see anything on the first floor but really took my time looking around on the second floor. Outlet/clearance items are so much more worth it when you don't have to pay for shipping. I came close to buying so many different things, but eventually I whittled it down to just two items.

After that I shoved made my way through the crowd to get back to Daiso where the first floor was an absolute mess of people and lines. I looked through all the floors and didn't even end up with many things in my basket so I seriously questioned whether it was truly worth it to stand in line, but I ended up just doing it.

By then we could check-in at the hotel, so I hopped on a Yamanote line train back to Shinagawa, texting my bf the whole way so we could hopefully get there around the same time since there was a lot of bags to take up to the room.

I was a little bit ahead of him and thirsty so I went to stop at the grocery(?) on the basement level of the Wing Takanawa East where I knew there would be a great selection of drinks at a price cheaper than most convenience stores. I got my bf's tea drink for 88yen when he usually pays around 120yen :D

I just had to wait a couple minutes in the hotel lobby before he showed up.

We collected all of the bags we left there and went up to the room which was actually not all the way down the hall for once.

I dropped off my bags, did a temporary pack of what I had purchased thus far on the trip to see how much room I had left and then went out again as soon as I could!

to Shibuya!

I went to Don Quixote first because I felt like I didn't have nearly enough omiyage to bring back but a lot of the things there were more of the same that I had seen in January and I didn't want to just bring the same snacks. I also stopped at one of the Can Do shops later. Thanks to our January trip, I can navigate the area behind 109 much better now from memory lol. I do always get a little confused when I'm by Don Quixote for some reason, but once I start walking, I can usually figure it out.

I was running a little short on time and my bf had decided to stay in the room and eat his leftover lunch (the hotel has a public use microwave), so I decided to stop at Ichiran for a solo dinner. Thank you again, January trip. There was no one waiting down there when I arrived and I was able to just purchase my ticket and get seated quickly.
Eating alone - no problem thanks to tiny booth lol. I tried the ramen with 1/2 red sauce this time (compared to the "none" I got last time) and it was much better! It had flavor without being overly spicy.

I quickly made my way back to the hotel in Shinagawa because we had MariCAR reservations that night!
My boyfriend had actually looked up/found this go-kart tour a while ago when we were brainstorming for ideas for past trips, but I have to admit I hadn't been keen on it in the past. I thought to myself - too difficult, too expensive, too time consuming and hadn't even bothered to research more about the details. However, I had a bit of a change of heart when we actually saw members of a tour during our recent trip in January 2017. Local Japanese didn't seem too bothered by it and many even thought it was quite cool. Tbh, as someone from Hawaii, I'm always wary of being a "bad tourist" and doing extremely tacky tourist things that get in the way of regular people going about their daily business. Seeing a positive or at least somewhat neutral reaction to it, definitely made me warm up to it.

About 2.5 weeks before this trip, I was part of a conversation where the MariCAR tours were brought up and it reminded me that maybe it was something I wouldn't mind doing. I looked at our schedule and saw that there were a few days where we didn't have anything specific/solid planned that would have easily allowed for an activity like this. I looked at the MariCARwebsite (available in several languages including English) and it was easy to understand and navigate. On a whim, I sent a inquiry email to see if there was any availability on either of the days where I anticipated having a free night during this trip. Facebook Messenger ended up being the best way to contact them (where I got a quicker answer than by email) and was easily able to make a reservation for the day we wanted. Communication was in English and they have a preset response so that you can provide them with all the information needed to make the reservation easily.

At the time we were booking, the following options were offered to us for Tokyo -
ーーーーAkihabara Shopーーーー
60 Minutes Course: Tokyo Station / Ginza
90 Minutes Course: Tokyo Skytree / Asakusa / Ueno Park 
120 Minutes Course B: Odaiba / Rainbow Bridge / Tokyo Tower / Ginza
180 Minutes Course C: Shinjuku / Harajuku / Shibuya / Tokyo Tower / Roppongi / Ginza 

ーーーーShinagawa Shopーーーー
60 Minutes Course: Tokyo Tower / Roppongi
120 Minutes Course A: Tokyo Tower / Roppongi / Shibuya
180 Minutes Course C: Odaiba / Rainbow Bridge / Tokyo Tower / Roppongi / Shibuya

【Price】
60 Minutes Tours: 4000 yen/cart
90 Minutes Tours: 5000 yen/cart
120 Minutes Tours: 6000 yen/cart
180 Minutes Tours: 8000 yen/cart
^ these prices are discounted with the caveat that you will write a review about your MariCAR experience. I knew that wouldn't be a problem for me!
I think it's really great that they have so many different course options. I can always try a different course on a future trip!
Since we were staying in Shinagawa and I wanted to drive through Shibuya crossing (where I had seen the tour during my last trip), we chose the Shinagawa Shop 120 minute Course A.
The service we received during the reservation process was reasonably prompt (usually response within 24 hours on FB messenger which is pretty good considering the time difference) and included all the details we needed. They also responded to specific questions I had. The website has a lot of useful links and makes excellent use of Google Maps to highlight the different courses and the location of the shop.

As mentioned when you make the reservation, one important part of the MariCAR experience is getting the equivalent of an driver's license. (MariCAR explains the different options here.) As Americans with valid US driver's licenses, the best option for us was to get an international driver's permit, easily available through AAA. Since by the time we decided to book the tour it was already just 2 weeks before our trip, we each went into our local AAA office where it took no more than 10 minutes to process but you can also submit your application via snail mail. For AAA, there's a $20 processing/application fee and if you require your photo taken (you need two passport photos), there may be an additional charge if you're not a AAA member. The whole process is very easy and the permit is valid for 1 year from the effective date or until your driver's license expires (whichever comes first). Note that your actual driver's license should accompany the permit for it to be valid.

We left the hotel near Shinagawa station at around 18:30 to make sure we weren't late for our 19:00 reservation. I didn't think it would actually take 1/2 hour to walk there, but since I've never really been in the area before and it was dark + included crossing the train tracks, I felt it was better to arrive early than late. We didn't have much issue navigating there and arrived about 10 minutes before our reservation time. There was a group of about 8 people who were just leaving in their carts as we were walking up.

When we entered the shop, I was a little surprised to see how many people were already there! I think there was about 4-6 staff members and maybe 4+ customers with about 6 more arriving just after us. Someone was able to greet us (in English) and get us set up with payment and preliminary instructions.

I had a small issue with the costume thing because I wasn't super into that part of the experience and my bf said some of them felt a bit wet (??) but the staff told me that I couldn't really use the go-kart in a dress (the wind would just immediately blow the skirt up), plus with the current temperature it would be cold without the added layer and the exhaust fumes would probably more easily contaminate my clothes.

With all that said, I somewhat reluctantly chose something and my bf chose a costume to match. I just put the jumper on over my clothes, including my dress and jacket. I also had to change my pumps for borrowed sneakers which I think actually made everything more cohesive anyway. There is a locker in the office for your personal items that you don't take with you (which doesn't really lock but they assure you that a staff member is in the office at all times) and they also provide gloves for your tour as well since during the colder months your hands can get cold.

For our tour, we were paired with another couple from South Korea who had also chosen to be (female) Mario and (male) Luigi. Our tour guide was Steve and all the instructions were in English. (He made sure that the Korean couple would be able to understand all the directions before we left.) Once we were all ready, we took just the necessities (cell phone and International Permit) and walked up the street to get a parking lot with the karts.

Steve briefly and efficiently explained how the karts worked - which pedals, how to use the blinker, horn, how he will be signalling to us, etc and then we were led out onto the street to 4 waiting karts (+ Steve's)! Despite the "Mario Kart" connotation, you're not allowed to bump the other karts or throw anything from them either.

There are additional staff members to help you get settled and then make sure that the seat is adjusted correctly. You do a really brief test of the pedals (maybe 1-2 meters forward and then a quick brake) so you can get a general feel of it, and then you just start going!

You drive for most of the time single file with your tour guide leading except when you pull to a stop light and the guide indicates that you should pair up/form two lines. This is so that there isn't one long line of headlights and they can easily get a count of the group to make sure everyone is together. When the light turns green, you usually fall into the single line again. We had a small group of 4 so this wasn't much of an issue with us. There were still some instances where we got separated at traffic lights, other cars or because of pedestrians in the cross walk, but for the most part, it was relatively easy to stay together and no one really panicked.

I wasn't comfortable taking my phone out while I was driving or even at most of the stop lights because the gloves I was wearing were bulky and I had a hard time taking them off and putting them back on, but Steve was taking pictures when there was time and sent them to us after the tour was over! We also had two stops along the way (one at Tokyo Tower and one in Shibuya) where you were able to get out of the karts, stretch and look around. This is a combination of photos that Steve took, my bf took and I took throughout the "tour".
 
 

We ended up catching up to another larger group when we were at one of the stops, but Steve tried to make it so that we weren't too close to them. I think such a big group of go-karts is a little cumbersome to others (plus it's harder for the guides to keep track of their own group), so I was glad that we didn't stick altogether.

When got back to Shinagawa and walked back to the MariCAR office, it was just around 21:30 which was the expected end time. We returned all the borrowed items, were given a photo print out of a photo that Steve had taken of our group at Tokyo Tower and then were free to go (since we had already paid at the beginning).

When everything was done, my bf and I leisurely walked back to the hotel without much problem except that we ended up waiting forever at the train crossing this time, got up to the room and called it a night. We still had quite a bit to pack and get ready for the last day of the trip!

My thoughts based on my MariCAR experience -
  • I'm glad they made me wear the costume. I'm not 100% positive how much it helped with the cold but pants really are somewhat of a necessity and it did help protect my Liz Lisa x My Melody dress a bit from the exhaust.
  • I'm not sure why some of the costumes were "wet" as described by my bf (I refused to touch anything he said felt damp so I can't confirm), but it was pretty cold in March, so I can't imagine anyone sweating THAT profusely. I want to just give them the benefit of the doubt and say that it was a spray cleaner or something that hadn't properly dried after a wash (since Japan isn't super big on dryers). My bf did say that his costume had a bit of an odor though - which was more overpowering than the exhaust smell. Mine was fine, but I did pull it from the back rack. Just choose carefully or count on showering afterward.
  • This is somewhat obvious but the exhaust is worse the farther back in the line you are. If you're the first driver behind the guide, you tend to inhale less of it than the last driver. My bf has asthma and survived OK at the time, but it's something to be aware of. (His asthma is kicking his butt rn in the weeks post-trip but I'm not sure that it's related.) I wore an average drug store face mask for the duration of the tour and could still smell the exhaust but do think it helped at least a little. If not with the smell, just also the wind in general.
  • You don't have to be a "racer" or "car person" to enjoy the experience or be able to drive the go-kart. 
  • You can bring a camera! MariCAR has go-pros you can rent that I believe are strapped to your chest, but the Korean guy grouped with us had a DSLR looped around his neck for pretty much the entire tour and was constantly snapping his own pictures at the stop lights. He was second in line so he could easily take pictures of his gf/wife in front of him or to the side of him depending on how we were lined up. If you just bring your phone, there's a pouch securely attached to the kart but it's too difficult and there's too much time and risk involved (imo) to constantly take a phone out and put it back in, especially with the big gloves. It might be easier during a warmer season though. If you have your phone very securely attached to a lanyard and are able to tuck it in to a jacket while driving, that might also be a good way to do it, so you have easy access but it's not so exposed all the time.
  • Almost all the people on the street that we encountered throughout the tour were extremely indifferent or had a positive reaction to us (including us being in the costumes outside of the karts when we took breaks). Both the girl and the guy in the Korean couple really enjoyed the attention and would love to wave and pose if people wanted to take pictures or stare a bit. That's not really me in an average situation, but it did kind of help that they were so comfortable with it, so that made it a little more fun for me to wave and interact too. Many children who saw us were particularly enthralled. One lady driving even held her dog up to the window so it could see us. If you don't like attention or are really uncomfortable with random people taking photos/video of you, this probably isn't the best activity for you though.
  • There was a small incident with a taxi that forced itself between me and the Korean guy, severing our group line and inhibiting me from seeing Steve so I couldn't tell if we were going to go straight through the traffic light or turning. My bf said it was a taxi that I hadn't let cut in front of me earlier when we were going down the street and was being a little vindictive. (I didn't let him cut because I was trying to keep the group together.) On a scale of things, it really wasn't that bad. I was too close to the taxi to see anything but since he was a little farther back, my bf was able to see that Steve was motioning for us to go straight through the light and I felt confident that we'd be able to meet back up with the group after the taxi went on its way and we did. 
  • The guide for our tour, Steve, was nice but not pushy or outrageous and that suited us just fine. He took a good amount of pictures for us and was polite but not invasively friendly. He was patient and accommodating but also assertive, and I did feel safe with him leading the group. Although the group did get separated a small handful of times (through no fault of Steve's), he was always aware of us and pulled over when he could or made a hand signal to indicate the next move so we were never really in distress.
  • My personal advice is to make a reservation for the latest shift possible. 1. a 2-hour tour in direct sunlight isn't fun. 2. You'll want to shower and change your clothes after doing this to get rid of the exhaust smell on your clothes and in your hair if you're going to be in close proximity to anyone and you may as well do that at the end of the day. I don't necessarily think that a day tour would be bad, but I'm just not partial to the sun. At first I thought I would want to go when there was light just because comparatively I drive better in the day, but I didn't have any issues with night driving and I'm glad it was cooler (temperature-wise) when we went.
  • Be sure to pay attention when you're driving! Accidents can happen and @cheon on Dayre was telling me that her friend also went on a MariCAR tour and someone in the group bumped another member hard enough that they also bumped into the back of a taxi. This resulted in a 3+ hour predicament while they tried to resolve the accident. I have to admit that I was focused more on making it through an intersection and just following Steve's lead (by looking ahead), and I didn't notice that the light had turned yellow and the Korean guy in front of me stopped and ended up bumping him in the back of his kart just a little. Thankfully there wasn't any real damage because I wasn't going very fast and my foot was mostly on the brake already, but that could have easily ended horribly! (You are responsible for paying for any damage to the karts that you cause. There are small bumpers on them that can handle small taps but the engines and most of the parts are pretty exposed.)
Do I recommend MariCAR / would I try it again? Yes.
BUT only if you are confident in your own personal driving skills. Whether you are a "good driver" or not by whomever's definition, I think it first needs to start with having your own personal faith that you can do it. I can't imagine being a nervous driver and trying to navigate around in a small, low-the-ground kart for 2 hours with regular traffic in a foreign country.
I feel like the ideal customer is a teenage boy that just graduated from high school, but people of all (driving eligible) ages can certainly enjoy it as long as the concept doesn't scare you.
It's not a perfect operation, but you do get what you're promised imo. Even if you do try it once, you can always go again for another course. I think they also have offices in Osaka and other places in Japan as well!

🌸 Japan trip Spring 2017 🌸
    Part 1: Arrival and Day 1 - Liz Lisa shopping and Ueno Park
    Part 2: Day 2 - Liz Lisa x My Melody Shibuya 109 release and Yokohama Ramen Museum
    Part 3: Day 3 - Tokaido Shinkansen to Osaka and meeting Mintkismet/Rilakkuma cafe
    Part 4: Day 4 - Hiroshima Peace Museum, Hiroshima Castle and Miyajima/Itsukushima Shrine
    Part 5: Day 5 - Nagoya Aquarium, Nagoya Castle, Science Museum and Oasis 21
    Part 6: Day 6 - Tokaido Shinkansen back to Tokyo and MariCAR Street Go-Kart Tour
    Part 7: Day 7 - Kawatsura Strawberry Farm, National Art Center, Rikugien Garden Illumination
    Part 8: Liz Lisa purchases/coordinates
    Part 9: Travel Notes - Airbnb, JR Pass, luggage & Pupuru pocket wifi
    Part 10: OOTDs 

Japan trip Winter 2017 posts
Japan trip Spring 2016 posts
Japan trip Autumn 2015 posts
Japan trip Summer 2015 posts
Japan trip Spring 2015 posts
Japan trip Summer 2014 posts

6 comments:

  1. Mari-car looks like so much fun lmao. I think the costumes add to it though - otherwise I guess your some people in a cart - it seems less... exciting I guess? But I'm glad you did it, had fun and enjoyed it :D

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    1. Actually for me, (since I was never truly keen on recycled stranger costumes) the cool part was just being able to drive around on the street in Tokyo (something I never would have attempted on my own). In Hawaii it would be a rarity (if allowed at all) to drive go-karts of similar structure on main streets.

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  2. I have a ton of your posts to catch up on but I had to check this one out first because of the Mario costume gimmick! lmao I love that you could just drive on the city streets? like it wasn't a course or anything? That's awesome! I would normally be too anxious to drive in a crowded city (especially Tokyo omg) so that must have been fun (despite the used costume gimmick haha)! and lastly as a side note, that pizza has me drooling. I LOVE margherita pizza because I have a low key obsession with the combo of fresh basil and mozzarella.

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    1. Yup you're out and about in the regular street with the other cars and trucks which is why the international drivers permit is essential! I was a bit nervous at first especially because there's no "practice" you can do beforehand but you basically just follow the guide so it's really easy!
      100% recommend Seirinkan if you can ever get there. I think you'd really enjoy the ambiance too!

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  3. Ever since playing the old Super Mario Kart games, I've always wanted to participate in it! I'll have to do this too if I ever go to Japan! And you look so cute as Mario ♥

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    1. If you can afford to fit it into your schedule and budget, I think it's a really cool experience!

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