More than four months after an earthquake and a tsunami delivered a devastating one-two punch to Japan, the tourism industry is still reeling from the blow. Perceptions about the safety of the country (or lack thereof) are keeping many Americans away.

Japan’s travel industry tends to rely on well-heeled travelers, but according to the New York Times, tourist visits are down 50 percent. Meanwhile, Daniel Simon, the general manager of the Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi, told the newspaper that “we don’t really think the high-end leisure traveler will come back until Chinese New Year 2012 because there’s still too much negative news in the media about Japan.”

So, high-end travelers are staying away. More intrepid travelers might very well say, “Let them.” Though the country will likely experience aftershocks for some time, the actual risks of traveling to Japan are low. For example, according to the US Department of State,

The “health and safety risks to land areas which are outside a 50-mile radius of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant are low and do not pose significant risks to U.S. citizens. Out of an abundance of caution, we continue to recommend that U.S. citizens avoid travel to destinations within the 50-mile evacuation zone of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant.”

And that’s it…just avoid a circle of the country that’s a 100 miles in diameter, out of a total area of 145,925 square miles. That means that almost 95% of the country is still safe to visit. Even within that 50 mile radius, the Department of State says it’s perfectly fine to travel as long as you’re just passing through via train or through Sendaki airport.

Everyone has their own tolerance for risk, of course. If you feel the risks of traveling to Japan are acceptable, there are certain advantages to going now instead of waiting: you’ll pay less for everything from tickets to lodging, and you’ll spend less time waiting in line.

Masaki Hirata, the executive director of marketing and promotion at the Japan National Tourism Organization, told the New York Times that since the disaster, “It’s less crowded now, and package tour prices are down 20 to 50 percent.”

If you do decide to go, you’ll need a US passport if you don’t have one already. Be careful about booking last-minute plane tickets without a passport, because it can take at least six weeks for your documents to arrive in the mail after you apply. Even with expedited processing through the Department of State (1 $60 fee), you can expect to wait three weeks.

What’s a spur-of-the-moment traveler to do? For faster service, you can make an appointment at one of twenty-four regional passport agencies, or take the easy way out by using a private passport service like RushMyPassport. We deliver your passport application directly to the Department of State, for processing in as little as 24 hours.

Let us help you get your US passport today!