3 MARCH 2009

Her face wreathed in smiles, Japan's Crown Princess Masako made a return to official duties this week – fulfilling her first solo engagement since 2006. The wife of Crown Prince Naruhito, who has been suffering from stress-induced illness blamed on the pressures of life within the Imperial Household, visited a Tokyo department store to attend an exhibition of gadgets invented by housewives.

In a departure from past appearances - when the princess has looked poised but withdrawn - the 45-year-old smiled and laughed as she was shown the items, which ranged from a butter-maker to a device to help disabled people write.

The former diplomat, who's been unwell since 2003, has been absent from most public duties over the past five years, only occasionally attending official functions with her husband. During this time she has received the full backing and support of her loyal spouse.

Photo: PA
Visiting an exhibition of housewives inventions at a Tokyo department store on her first solo duty since 2006, the princess seemed relaxed and upbeat - a departure from the poised but withdrawn appearance which has characterised her official duties over the the past five years
Photo: PA
Masako has suffered from a stress-related illness since 2003
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