Travellers in Japan may well be finding themselves reading the small print of their travel insurance policies. Frequently, polices do not provide cover for "acts of God" - events arising out of natural causes with no human intervention which could not have been prevented by reasonable care or foresight. Where does that leave travellers stranded in countries affected by natural disasters?
Fortunately many policies do provide benefits for trip cancellations or interruption if there is a government warning advising against travel to a region within a country. The UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office is currently advising against all but "essential" travel to north eastern Japan and Tokyo, although they say it is down to individuals to determine what is essential.
If you had planned travel to Japan and are now considering cancelling, only travel scheduled to take place during the current government travel warning would be covered. As soon as the travel advisory is lifted, trip cancellation is unlikely to apply.
Notwithstanding the threat of a potential nuclear meltdown of the Fukushima nuclear power plant, you are unlikely to recover under your travel insurance policy if you cancel your trip to Japan through fear or concern. Insurance covers events, not anxiety.
Many insurers have responded sympathetically to policyholders wanting to cancel their travel plans, however, considering claims on an ex-gratia basis where a customer has been unable to obtain a refund from their airline or tour operator.
Policies purchased after 11 March 2011 when the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan will not be covered for the disruptions, as cover is being bought in the knowledge that there is a problem.
Travel insurance policies vary enormously, and the approach taken by insurance companies in the face of such disasters will also vary. The advice is to check with your travel insurance company for details of coverage before travelling.