Go-kart-driving in a cartoon costume on Tokyo roads

THAT'S exactly what I and a group of Malaysian journalists did in Tokyo two days ago – just like what many tourists in the trend-setting city have, where we went on a "Street Kart Tour" in Tokyo, driving little go-karts on the city's public roads while wearing costumes of cartoons, animated characters and superheroes.

The tourist attraction originated from the “Mario Kart”, a series of go-kart-style racing video games developed and published by Japanese consumer electronics and video game company Nintendo, as spin-offs from its trademark Super Mario series. The operator, Street Kart Tokyo Bay BBQ, says: “Street kart is in no way a reflection of the game 'Mario Kart'. Therefore, when riding the go-karts none of the following will be allowed: 1. No racing each other on the streets. 2. Do not throw banana peels or any other garbage on to the streets. 3. Do not throw red turtle shells or any other objects to each other.”

Banana peels? Turtle shells? Only those who know about the Mario Kart video game will understand.

Anyway, the street karts, as the vehicles are called, are powered by 50cc two-stroke scooter engines paired with an automatic transmission. They are road-legal, complete with registration, indicators, lights, horn, electric starter, wing mirrors, brakes and parking brake. There is a simple lever on the side for you to choose Forward, Neutral or Reverse. There is no seat belt and no helmet is required. You must have a valid Japanese driver's license or an International Driving Permit to operate the kart. “Remember! NO LICENSE NO DRIVE!” says Street Kart Tokyo Bay BBQ.

Before the drive, you can choose your costume (at no extra charge) from the company’s wide selection of costumes. I chose Tigger. Once everybody is all costume-d up, we adjourned for a pre-drive briefing, where the very friendly crew member who seemed to have too much caffeine in his system explained to us about the vehicle, the do’s and don’ts, and other options such as the availability of action cameras and Bluetooth speakers for rent, other than the free usage of goggles, helmets, gloves. The camera is for a driver to record the drive while the speaker is simply for you to play your favourite songs while driving.

Top speed is capped at 60km/h (the karts can barely go much more than that). Racing is discouraged, all local traffic laws must be followed and if the kart is damaged in a crash or misuse, the penalty is very expensive.

We were expected to travel in a single file and in a tight formation, so that other vehicles could not get in between us. A lead kart and a sweeper driven by the company's crew ensured that the bunch stayed together and stay safe. During the drive, they gave simple hand signals when we need to queue two-by-two at traffic lights and some junctions. They also took photos of us, including one hardcopy to every participant at the end of the drive, which is part of the package. A group photo during a short break is part of the programme too.

I could not stop giggling and grinning while driving around, waving to the amused, photo-snapping onlookers. Like many of its customers have written in the reviews of the experience, we felt like celebrities when onlookers waved at us and took photos of us. Some even took selfies with us when we were at stop lights. It helped a lot that local motorists were very good with their machines, were well-behaved and respectful of each other. Despite the zero protection offered by the street kart and its very low-slung nature, we felt very safe driving around, since we consider ourselves just as well-behaved as the local motorists.

Out of the myriad of fun things you can do in Tokyo, this is definitely a must-try! I've operated cars, lorries, motorcycles, bicycles, and vehicles made for construction, agriculture and even street cleaning, on public roads in Malaysia and other countries, but this one is the most fun, wacky and an unforgettable experience ever! Yeshhhh, ladies and gentlemen, driving a street kart - while wearing a ridiculous costume - is one of the things you MUST do if you are in Tokyo!