Like the fog that often shrouds San Francisco’s hills, Kiri the Japanese Fire Truck’s origins are a bit of mystery. But since bursting on the scene as a “little Covid escape pod” in the middle of the pandemic, the fantastic former first responder vehicle has been a bright spot in the lives of everyday San Franciscans.
Since arriving in the Bay from the Japanese mountain town of Kirigamine in July 2020, Kiri has amassed over 8,000 Instagram followers as @teenytinyfiretruck and become a bit of a local celebrity and informal ambassador for Japan, appearing at community events and functions like the reopening of the First Responder Museum in May and Godzilla Fest at the Balboa Theater. The 1990 Daihatsu fire truck—which tops out at about 55 miles per hour, measures 131 inches long and often whizzes around town blasting songs like “Let It Go” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”—is under the care of longtime Bernal Heights resident and content designer Todd Lappin. The self-described “Japan nerd” and “car geek” imported the quirky vehicle from Japan for “significantly less than $10,000” at the urging of his family.
“I don’t have much of a social life these days, but Kiri has a hell of a social life,” says Lappin.
Kiri (whose name coincidentally enough means “fog”) is still, however, getting used to all the attention after living a pretty sheltered existence in Kirigamine (whose name in another cosmic twist of kismet also means “foggy peaks”). Kiri arrived in San Francisco with only 2,500 miles and spent most of its time “sitting in this cozy little garage at the foot of a ski hill” before that, said Lappin speaking for Kiri. Given the low mileage, we don’t know if Kiri saw much action as a fire truck before “retiring” and getting on a boat to the Americas, but Kiri has been enjoying its second act as a local icon and representative for Japan.
“After you spend 30 years, sitting in a garage by yourself it’s a little strange to be the object of so much attention, but it’s nice,” Kiri told The Standard, via Lappin. “Pretty much everybody has been really welcoming. The whole city has been.”
Lappin enjoys going on joyrides and casual errands in Kiri— “it’s great on the hills,” he says. Spending his time zipping around in the compact vehicle has been a great way of getting to know fellow San Franciscans and enjoy “amazing interactions with the city.”
“It brings out the best in San Francisco,” he says.
Photos by Paul Kuroda.
Firefighting and extreme cuteness.
Freeways…and being in a hurry or basically getting anywhere quickly
I'm from a long line of proud Daihatsus.
I'm retired. I was on duty for 30 years. I just want to relax now.