Japan's Princess Kiko and her newborn son Hisahito left a Tokyo hospital on Friday afternoon, giving the public their first glimpse at the baby who may one day inherit the country's ancient Chrysanthemum throne.
A beaming Kiko, accompanied by her husband Prince Akishino, walked out of the hospital with the baby in her arms, wisps of his black hair and tightly closed eyes just visible above white swaddling cloths. They were whisked away by car to their imperial palace through streets lined with well-wishers, as security guards stood by.
"I am very grateful to the people, friends and family who prayed for the baby's safe delivery," Kiko said in comments later released by the Imperial Household Agency. "I am overjoyed by the birth ... and happy that today we are able to return home."
The 9-day-old prince, born to Kiko on Sept. 6 by Cesarian section, is the imperial family's first male heir in four decades. He was given his name - which means "virtuous, calm and everlasting," in an age-old rite earlier this week.
The palace has hired a nurse to take care of the prince and media reports say his home has been renovated with a new stove for warming milk, padded carpets and a fence around the staircases for protection.
It was desirable that Kiko rest for at least half a year to recover from the operation, chief doctor Masao Nakabayashi said in a statement. The baby spent the days sleeping well, he added.
Hisahito's birth was hailed by royal loyalists as forestalling a succession crisis for one of the world's oldest imperial systems. A 1947 law allows only men to inherit the throne, and the royal family had desperately needed a new heir for the coming generation.
Akishino and his older brother, Crown Prince Naruhito, had three daughters between them, but no sons until the new arrival. The new prince is now third in line to the throne.
Still, experts - and even the palace chief - have said the royal family's future is still shaky. A high-level panel last year recommended changing the succession law to allow female monarchs, a proposal backed enthusiastically at the time by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.
But conservatives mounted a harsh attack, saying the revision would wreck centuries of tradition. News of Kiko's pregnancy in February put the proposal on hold, and Koizumi's likely successor, conservative Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, has said he will not rush to take the proposal forward.
Recent polls have shown the Japanese public backs the idea of a female monarch, despite Hisahito's birth.