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Saturday, 8 December, 2001, 10:24 GMT
Japan's new princess meets the public
Princess Aiko
The princess will sleep in a cradle used by the Emperor
The Japanese public have had their first glimpse of the new-born Princess Aiko.

Thousands lined the streets as her mother, Crown Princess Masako, took the eight-day-old royal baby home from the palace hospital.

Princess Masako and her husband, Crown Prince Naruhito, smiled proudly as the new princess experienced her first taste of public life.

Cradled in her mother's arms and wrapped in a white blanket, Princess Aiko slept soundly as a bank of television cameras broadcast her image live around Japan.

Crown Princess Masako, Crown Prince Naruhito and Princess Aiko
Both mother and baby are said to be in good health
Princess Masako bowed to doctors and nurses as she left the hospital where, according to a palace official, her husband has visited her and the baby every day since the birth.

With the new princess in a baby carrier by her side, Princess Masako waved to around 3,500 people gathered as their royal cavalcade drove to the family's residence in central Tokyo.

"Congratulations Masako!", shouted well-wishers waving Japanese rising-sun flags.

Widespread celebration

Both Princess Masako, who will turn 38 on Sunday, and the baby are said to be in good health.

Princess Aiko, who was named at an elaborate 100-year-old ceremony on Friday, will be placed in the same cradle her grandfather, Emperor Akihito, once slept in.

Japanese people celebrating birth of baby princess
Celebrations have continued all week
She is the couple's first child in their eight-year marriage, and has been welcomed into the world throughout the week with traditional rituals and widespread public celebration.

Thousands have signed a book of congratulations and enjoyed street parades, a lantern festival and glasses of free sake, to mark the arrival of the princess, whose name is a combination of the words for "love" and "child".

Succession dilemma

If Princess Aiko had been born a boy she would have been second heir to the imperial throne.

Her birth has started a debate on whether the succession laws should be changed to allow her eventually to ascend to the throne.

The imperial family has not had a boy since the 1965 birth of Prince Akishino, Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko's younger son.

The imperial household is the chief guardian of Japan's indigenous Shinto religion, and the rituals are supposed to evoke a sense of the nation's ancient history.

According to myth, the royal family is directly descended from the sun goddess.

Most historians agree the family is at least 1,500 years old.

See also:

07 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan royals name new princess
03 Dec 01 | Business
Japan relishes baby boom
04 Dec 01 | Talking Point
Should Japan change its constitution?
02 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Thousands hail Japan's royal birth
01 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan joy at royal birth
01 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Joy and concern for royal baby
09 May 01 | Asia-Pacific
Japan's female emperors
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