Let's cruise the streets of Okinawa like Mario!
When I headed to MariCar Okinawa on Sept. 30, less than a month since its debut in Naha City, my heart raced. The idea of riding a real Mario Kart sounded like a cool thing to do, even if it wasn’t in the streets of Shibuya or Roppongi in Tokyo.
After donning a red and blue Mario costume, complete with mustache, I’ll have to admit that I looked more like a villain than Super Mario. But, my bad cosplay didn’t discourage me once I got behind the wheel of supped up mini car.
“Many people enjoy our Mario Kart tours in Tokyo with a smile on their face. We wanted to make more people happy,” said General Manager Yusuke Yamazaki of the MariCar Okinawa, describing the reason why the company expanded its reach to the island.
His words said it all. It didn’t take long to put a big smile on my face.
The joy of Mario Kart is twofold. The first half of the tour was more about speed and thrills. Along with three other people dressed as Yoshi, Wario and Luigi, I cruised across Tomari Bridge, a large arch bridge that runs over Naha port. The wind, sunshine and freedom of the road induced a permanent grin above my chin.
On busy Route 58, we drove alongside bigger vehicles, posing like a group of racers. The low-level view and the small steering wheel brought on images of Indy Car or Formula 1 races. Although the Go-Karts went only 40-50 kilometers an hour on average, it was an exhilarating ride. However, since we were public roads, we were instructed not to tailgate or pass fellow riders. So we drove fast, but peacefully, in formation.
The second half of the tour took us through Kokusai Street, arguably the most crowded road on Okinawa. Although we had to slow down, our excitement still soared. It was like driving for a victory lap on this mile-long homestretch, surrounded by a large, adoring crowd.
Tourists and locals were everywhere, waiving at us. Kids were cheering. Senior citizens were smiling. When we stopped at a red light, people came close to take photos and shake hands with us.
At one point, we drove by a group of Japanese girls who appeared to be on a school trip. As soon as they saw us, the girls started screaming “Kawaii!” It was obviously directed toward Wario played by my coworker Jessica Bidwell, who was driving ahead of me.
While the girls were busy taking photos of the cute version of Mario’s nemesis, I flinched, worrying that my scary version of Mario would ruin the mood. But instead, they just laughed hard at my bad cosplay, which I think looked more like Borat to them. It was amazing to see how Mario Kart makes everything funny.
“We have many people coming from Yokosuka and Yokota and Zama,” Yamazaki said, adding that they opened for business in Tokyo more than a year ago. “They often come in a group of 10 or 20. Plus, some of them come back with different friends of theirs. Here on Okinawa, we have seen people coming from Futenma, Hansen and other facilities.
“Some people come to the Okinawa branch after having a great time riding in Tokyo,” he said. “I remember one of them saying in excitement, ‘Driving in Kokusai street felt like driving in Shibuya.’”
It surely feels great to be Mario and drive a Go-Kart on Okinawa, even if you are not good at cosplay.
Address: 7-1 Higashi-Machi, Naha city, Okinawa, 900-0034
Hours: 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Website: Website: Okinawa - http://Maricar.okinawa; Tokyo - http://Maricar.com
Fee: Regular price (fee) 8,000 yen (tax included) / SNS Review Price (fee) 6,000 yen (tax included)
* Reservation is required. Reservation can be made by phone, email and Facebook.
* Driver’s license for Japan is required. An international driver’s license or SOFA license is accepted.
* Open seven days a week.
* Currently a 20% off coupon is available.
For more info, contact MariCar Okinawa at 090-8888-4747/03-6712-8275.