Of the ten prefectural gubernatorial elections in the unitary local elections being held in April, eight went directly from the national civil service and another former national civil servant served in the House of Councilors before becoming a governor. The tenth was a well-known TV journalist.
It’s safe to say from this that local ties are important, but it’s useful not to be too local. A long-serving mayor or powerful prefectural assemblyperson must run the gauntlet of longstanding regional rivalries. A successful administrator with local ties but above the fray of local politics is an ideal candidate for the prefecture-wide office. IT’s also safe to say that the national bureaucracy still retains considerable cachet in the regions.
Notably, the one exception is the governor of Kanagawa Prefecture, the demi-center of the metropolitan Tokyo area, where fluid, urban demographics generate very different political dynamics.
Note: I incorrectly wrote here that the Saga governor’s office would be part of the unitary local elections. Saga Prefecture obviously cannot go without a governor for four months, and the law says so too. That election will be held on January 11, only ten days from now. Doesn’t change the story much, but it is pretty embarrassing nonetheless, as ignorance of the law is no excuse.