Japan’s imperial family has sat on the throne of this island monarchy for over 2,500 years. Traditionally, the emperor was considered a god-like figure, though abdications were not entirely unheard of. Following World War II, the constitution was re-written under the auspices of the US, turning the emperor into a primarily symbolic figure. The symbolism and power of the position is still significant in Japan though, which is why the emperor’s public request to abdicate as he grows older and has more health problems to deal with, has caused such waves in the last week. This article explains the history this move could disrupt, and the political barriers ahead, both immediately and in the longer-term as the monarchy moves into the 21st century.