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Japan's new princess heads home

Aiko meets the Japanese public outside the palace hosptial where she was born
Aiko meets the Japanese public outside the palace hosptial where she was born  

TOKYO, Japan -- Crown Princess Masako celebrated her birthday prematurely Saturday by leaving hospital with her newborn daughter, Aiko.

Masako, 38 on Sunday, and her husband Crown Prince Naruhito, 41, grinned broadly before television cameras broadcasting live from the hospital entrance -- allowing the public its first glimpses of Japan's newest royal, Aiko, born a week ago.

Aiko, wrapped tightly in a long white cloth with only her face and a shock of short hair protruding, slept soundly, her lips slightly ajar and her cheeks pink in the chilly outside air.

After bowing to nurses and doctors, the family left the palace complex in a limousine and proceeded to their residence in central Tokyo, the Associated Press reported.

In compliance with traffic law requirements Aiko rested in an infant car seat placed between her parents on the limousine's rear seat for the 15-minute journey.

Masako and Naruhito opened the windows to smile and wave at thousands gathered along the route, waving Japanese national flags.

Visits every day

Mother and daughter were in good health, a palace spokesman said on condition of anonymity. The new father has visited them in the hospital every day since the birth, he said.

At home in a specially refurbished room, Aiko would be placed in a cradle once used by her grandfather, Emperor Akihito, and his three children.

As the eldest son of Akihito and Empress Michiko, Naruhito is heir to the throne.

Japan's newest royal, Aiko
Japan's newest royal, Aiko  

The birth of the princess has intensified discussion of whether the government should abandon the current males-only law in favor of one that would allow a female to assume the throne.

The birth of an heir to the royal house has been a bright spot in an otherwise grim year for Japan.

Unemployment stands at a record 5.4 percent, and incomes are shrinking. Fresh figures on Friday confirmed what economists already knew -- that Japan is in recession, its fourth in a decade.


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