Born the grandson of a once-prosperous textile manufacturer in Urawa, Saitama Prefecture, Naohiko Jinno says that when he was growing up he was told by his mother, over and over again, that money was not important.

Now aged 66, and a professor emeritus of economics at the University of Tokyo, Jinno recalls his mother telling him so many times that money doesn't matter — it's the things you can't buy with money that really matter.

Ensconced last week in his office at the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry, where he serves as chairman of the Local Public Finance Council, Jinno tells how his family's business went bankrupt after his grandfather refused to become part of the munitions industry during World War II.