2 JANUARY 2008

Crown Princess Masako has remained largely out of the limelight since 2003 when she withdrew from public life plagued by a stress-related illness. But despite her struggles to adapt to royal life after leaving behind her career as a high flying diplomat, the mother of one seems determined to make a fresh start to 2008. The 44-year-old looked the picture of health and happiness as she waved to cheering crowds on Wednesday from the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Nearly 80,000 people gathered before the palace for the imperial family's traditional seven appearances during the day, of which Masako attended three. The Harvard-educated wife of Crown Prince Naruhito gradually increased her public appearances in 2007 and, while still not fully recovered, is clearly making progress. Last February her husband asked for the public's patience over his wife's condition, explaining she was making "as much effort as possible, and slowly her condition is improving".

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko also appeared to be in good spirits as they greeted the crowds of well-wishers who shouted out "Banzai" meaning 'Live long' and waved flags. "I feel pleased to celebrate the New Year with you," said the 74-year-old monarch from the glassed-in balcony of the Hall Of Lasting Peace. "At the beginning of the year, I wish for happiness of our nation and peace in the world."

Photo: ©
Looking pretty in sky-blue, Masako showed just how much progress she has made over the last year as she enthusiastically greeted well-wishers at the Imperial PalacePhoto: © AFP
Photo: ©
The Emperor, accompanied by his wife and family members, made his traditional New Year address on WednesdayPhoto: © AFP