Until six years ago, Nobutaka Murao says, he was just another central government bureaucrat. Then he was posted to the Mie Prefectural Government in July 1995, on loan from the Finance Ministry, and everything changed.

When he found out about his posting as chief of the prefecture's general affairs department, the first thing that came to mind was the prefecture's famed Matsuzaka beef and Ise lobster. He soon discovered, however, that fate had more in store for him.

Masayasu Kitagawa, who became governor three months before Murao's arrival, passionately told him to act on behalf of taxpayers, but Murao could not help wondering whether it was realistic to do so.