JAPANESE sighed over photos of their likely future emperor on Sunday as Prince Hisahito, the first male heir born in four decades, turned 3 years old.
The imperial family is well-loved in Japan, but members' lives are heavily cloistered, unlike those of the royal families of Britain and other Western nations.
Newspapers published photos on Sunday of the prince wearing a kimono embroidered with images of a crane, a symbol of Japan and longevity.
TV news showed the smiling boy, nicknamed 'Yuyu' and 'Yuchan' by his parents, running into his father's arms.
Hisahito is the first male heir born in 41 years to the imperial family and is third in line to succeed Emperor Akihito, 75, on Japan's Chrysanthemum Throne.
Japan had considered changing its male-only succession law for the emperor, but put aside the idea as Prince Hisahito's birth approached.
His uncle, 49-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito, is first in line to succeed the emperor, followed by Crown Prince Naruhito's younger brother and prince Hisahito's father, Akishino.
Crown Prince Naruhito and his wife Masako have one daughter, who could have inherited the throne if the legal change had been made to allow women in the imperial succession.
The emperor and his wife have cut back official appearances because of stress-related illnesses. Princess Masako has also largely kept out of the public eye because of chronic depression.
In contrast, little Prince Hisahito appears to be the picture of health.
Reports said he loves his tricycle and knows how to dress himself.
Prince Akishino and his wife Kiko also have two daughters, Mako and Kako.