Japanese royals pose for rare family photo for New Year

Japan's usually private royal family has posed for official photographs to celebrate the New Year.

The formal pictures issued by the Imperial Palace, a rarity for what is the oldest continuous hereditary monarchy in the world, show 80-year-old Emperor Akihito and his wife Empress Michiko, 79, surrounded by their two sons, their wives, and four grandchildren.

In the intimate shot captured in a simple setting, the Emperor and Empress can be seen explaining a document to their grandson, Prince Hisahito, who will one day be emperor. Dressed smartly in a suit and tie, the seven-year-old is kneeling before them.

The Empress looks over her grandchild’s shoulder, dressed in cream-coloured traditional Japanese attire.

Meanwhile, her daughters-in-law Princess Masako and Princess Kiko wear cream skirt suits. Pearl necklaces and delicate earrings complete their colour co-ordinated outfits.

Seated on either side of the Emperor and Empress are their sons Prince Naruhito and Prince Akishino.

In the background of the photograph, Princess Mako, 22, and Princess Kako, 19 – both daughters of Prince Akishino and his wife – stand with their 12-year-old cousin Aiko, Princess Toshi.

The photographs, which mark a new year, may also mark a move towards a show of both unity and modernity on behalf of Japan’s royals, who have rarely ever addressed the public.

They come just weeks after the 50th birthday of Princess Masako, who issued a two-page public statement upon her coming of age.

In it, the Japanese royal – who has been known to suffer from a long-term stress-induced illness – hinted at a brighter future.

"I feel strong gratitude toward the many people who helped me get to where I am now," she wrote.

"Since my birthday last year, I've been making efforts to accomplish my duties, whether business or personal, as much as possible."

She added, "I would like to continue my efforts toward my recovery while receiving help from people around."