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“So, how would you like to wear a costume and drive around Tokyo in a go-kart?”
“Wow, that’s not at all what I expected you to ask. But yeah, sure.”
Which is pretty much how we ended up wearing costumes and driving around Tokyo in go-karts. And, just so we’re clear, that first question came from Laynni. Yep, racing go-karts through traffic in the biggest city in the world? That was HER idea. The power of watching people looking thrilled on TikTok, I guess.
This is how it went down:
Arrive at Monkey Kart office, sparing a skeptical gaze for the colourful, F1-style go-karts sitting quietly next to the curb, looking very out of place in the context of passing traffic.
Fill out suspiciously extensive waiver forms, signing away all restitution in the event of everything from minor fender damage to inadvertent beheadings. Trade an Instagram follow for insurance coverage. Seems legit.
Pick our outfits. Due to copyright issues, the company formerly known as Super Mario Kart can no longer associate itself with dashing Mario (or even surly Luigi) but they still have a wide selection of other costumes and ensembles. In the birthplace of Pokémon, we chose Pikachu, obviously.
Ask about helmets.
5:22 and a bit
Blank look. Utter silence. Moment drags on. In the distance, a lone cricket chirps.
Watch orientation video, with caveats. Namely, ignore all the now-obsolete instructions in the video regarding THE SAFE USE OF PHONES while driving. New rule: NO PHONES while driving. Our generous guide will handle the photos, despite how notoriously good tourists are at multimedia multi-tasking at high speeds on the streets of Tokyo.
Very important: Never – EVER – let a taxi get in between us because “we are at constant war with the taxi drivers”. Noted, and now vaguely regretting choosing Pikachu over War Propaganda Mickey Mouse.
Time to choose our rides.
I pick the front kart, a shiny yellow specimen with lots of stickers and an appealing air of danger.
Our guide, Issam, mounts a Robocop-style 3-wheeler clearly capable of amazing feats of speed and agility.
There were no similarities.
Very surprised at the power. Should be handy both for dodging speeding trucks and validating my masculinity.
Very surprised at the brakes. Mainly, the way they don’t really do much. Begin to suspect that the “air of danger” is actually the smell of burnt brake pads.
Racing down a busy Tokyo street, surrounded by traffic, neon skyscrapers looming on every side, the tiny wheel overly sensitive, kart shuddering alarmingly, every bump or groove jerking the tires from side to side. A sudden flip followed by dramatic tumbling feels possible, even likely, at this point. In other words, awesome!
At a red light, Issam nimbly dismounts his futuristic ride – snapping photos and directing poses with the urgency and excitement of a new pickleball enthusiast.
Receive a withering, disapproving glare from the woman in the car beside us. It would not be the last.
Gaze around in awe at the tall buildings, bright lights and epileptic neon. Shiny.
Let a taxi sneak in between me and Issam. Epic fail. Until we simply changed lanes and it was all fine.
Drive through Shibuya Crossing, the busiest intersection in the world. Carefully avoiding the murder of pedestrians while offering our best smiles to the many tourists inevitably drawn to photograph the 4 Furries in go-karts suddenly appearing in their midst. Laynni: a warm and welcoming grin. Dean: a classically awkward sneer.
Israeli guy left on wrong side of red light, a regrettable but predictable casualty of circumstance.
He caught up.
Faster! Issam gestures to me as we speed through a dark tunnel at 60 km/hr. With my foot firmly to the floor, kart shaking like a dry alcoholic and knuckles white in their desperate battle with the bucking steering wheel, I nod and smile.
Waiting at a red light, Issam engages in a long conversation with the driver of a car in the next lane. Polite and cordial, but based on tone and body language, he definitely wasn’t saying, “Hey, this is such a great idea, having a bunch of clueless tourists racing around on our roads is exactly what this neighbourhood has been missing”. But my Japanese is pretty poor, so you never know.
Roll to a slow, spent stop in front of the office we left from with more than an hour of driving, dozens of kilometres, several Tokyo neighbourhoods and many thousands of annoyed drivers under our belts. Checklist complete.
Reluctantly return Pikachu costumes. One brief, sad glance back over shoulder on the way out.
Are you itchy? I’m kind of itchy.
Down a dark alley, happily devouring pizza at a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle-themed shop featuring a rack of vintage Playboys.
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