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Sunday, 2 December, 2001, 13:44 GMT
Thousands hail Japan's royal birth
A lantern festival was staged outside the palace
Thousands of people have been celebrating the birth of Japan's new princess at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

The arrival of the royal baby - the first child of Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako - was initially a family celebration.

But on Sunday it was the public's turn to celebrate the new addition to the Imperial family.

There is absolutely nothing more joyful, this is bright and happy news

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi
More than 25,000 people gathered outside the palace compound, waving paper lanterns and shouting "Banzai" - meaning long life.

Tens of thousands of wellwishers lined up to sign a congratulatory book for the prince and princess.

Similar scenes were repeated around Tokyo and across the country.

In the seaside town of Hayama, near the imperial family's summer villa, residents took part in a celebratory drum-beating festival.

Prime minister's tribute

The procession of people offering their congratulations at the Imperial Palace was led by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, dressed in a tailcoat.

Signing the book for the prince and princess
There were long queues to sign the book of congratulations
"There is absolutely nothing more joyful. This is bright and happy news," he said.

"I have never seen the imperial family in such a congenial and bright atmosphere."

Emperor Akihito and his wife also expressed their pleasure at the birth of the yet un-named child.

"We are very glad," said the 67-year-old emperor. "She's a fine baby," added the empress.

Inside the palace, rituals have already taken place to welcome the latest addition to the family.

Emperor Akihito's chamberlain has delivered a ceremonial sword and a traditional skirt to the baby's pillow.

And next week, the baby will have its first bath, while an ancient text is recited and scholars pluck the strings of wooden bows - said to ward off evil spirits.

After the bath, the current emperor Akihito will name the baby.

Sense of optimism

Amidst the celebration, there is hope that the royal birth will herald a new wave of optimism in Japan, after a series of recent setbacks.

"It's great. For once we've got news to feel good about - its wonderful," said Tetsuo Nambu, who came to the celebrations outside the palace with his family.

There are hopes the royal birth will increase consumer spending
Japan is suffering a serious recession and record unemployment levels. The outbreak of mad cow disease and the 11 September terrorist attacks in America have exacerbated the situation.

So the arrival of the long-awaited royal baby has been a rare piece of happy news - and economists are even predicting a rise in consumer spending.

Department stores hung out flags and awnings on Sunday - a banner at the Mitsukoshi store in Tokyo read: "Congratulations on the birth of the new princess."

But amidst the rejoicing, there are concerns about the future of the monarchy in Japan.

This was not quite the news Japan had been hoping for. No boys have been born to the imperial family since 1965 and, after the next generation, the world's longest reigning dynasty runs out of males.

The prime minister said there were no immediate plans to change the law, but that all options would be carefully considered.

See also:

01 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan joy at royal birth
01 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Joy and concern for royal baby
01 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
No 'immediate' change to Japan succession
09 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's female emperors
15 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan crown princess pregnant
30 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
The diplomatic princess
02 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Japan welcomes new princess
02 Dec 01 | Media reports
Japanese papers rejoice at royal birth
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