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Empress Michiko has described her “shock” and “pain” at seeing the word “abdication” in news headlines for the first time after Emperor Akihito’s video message to the nation on Aug. 8.

In a written statement released Thursday to mark her 82nd birthday, the Empress reflected on events of the past year, including the Emperor’s rare video address in which he indicated his wish to abdicate in the near future due to his advanced age.

“It was with awe and respect that I heard the thoughts revealed by His Majesty, which he made after thoroughly discussing the matter with the Crown Prince and Prince Akishino,” the Empress said in the message, which was released in both English and Japanese.

“It came as a shock to me, however, to see the words seizen taii (abdicate while living) printed in such big letters on the front pages of the papers. It could have been because until then I had never come across this expression even in history books that, along with surprise, I briefly experienced pain upon seeing those words,” the statement said.

The Empress added: “Perhaps I might have been a bit too sensitive.”

On Monday Prime Minister Shinzo Abe launched a six-member expert panel to discuss issues related to an abdication.

The current Imperial House Law obliges an emperor to stay in his position until death, with an abdication requiring the law to be revised or another separate, temporary law enacted.

The panel is now expected to submit a report to the government in spring, and the government is reportedly considering legislation to allow the Emperor to abdicate, possibly in 2018.

In Thursday’s statement, the Empress said she had “always felt” that if any important decision is made about the Imperial Household, it is a matter primarily for “those in the line of Imperial succession,” not their spouses or relatives.

The Empress, who was born in 1934 and married then-Crown Prince Akihito in 1959, is the first commoner to become an empress in Japan. Since then, she has remained extremely popular and earned the love and respect of the Japanese people.

At the outset of the written statement, the Empress said she has been concerned about a number of natural disasters that have hit Japan over the past year.

“In the history of nature, it is said that periods of relative calm and periods of activity alternate at certain intervals,” she said. “No doubt we are now living in a period of activity, and it can be said that we are all living with the possibility of encountering natural disasters.”

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