I took it as a positive sign of my ability to adapt deeply into neocommunist manners, that when I arrived in Japan coming from Beijing, I first felt like a caveman. But it luckily did not take more than 30 minutes to switch back to normal. So no permanent damage done. Japan is often described as a "cultural Galapagos" of East Asia and even it is a highly modern country, it preserved a lot of uniqueness. And I like it a lot.
It has been my third time being in Japan and the second time in Kyoto during the "Sakura" which is the time when the cherry trees blossom. Flying into Osaka, Kyoto is only a short local train ride away. In the high speed train Shinkansen you even shoot from one city to the other in only about 15 minutes.
When Kyoto was established as Heian-kyō (平安京, "tranquility and peace capital") is was modelled as a copy of the Chinese Tang Dynasty capital Chang'an (西安, Xi'an). Kyto remained the capital until the Emperial Court moved to Tokyo in 1896 as a consequence of the distructions during the Hamaguri rebellion. By contrast to Xi'an, Kyoto has preserved a lot of its charm and beauty. Kyoto is an important academic, philosophical and cultural center of Japan, has 14 UNESCO World Heritage sites and is definitely a region to explore with more time.
I was reading Lin Yutang's The Importance of Living on the way and had to burst laughing when he refused describing Buddhism in his book, because it is "too sad". Sharp observation, wise explanation and the good humor of Lin Yutang makes this book together with My Country and My People two absolute must reads for any Westerner who comes to China. I took a few chapters on Taoism (道教) twice and remembered my hopeless attempt to read Laozi in a German translation when I was a teenager. But now perhaps is a good time to catch up on it. In terms of Zen please be reminded of Eugen Herrigel's short essay Zen in the Art of Archery (I did not find the German original in electronic format) and D.T. Suzuki's An Introduction into Zen Buddhism.
Taoism is for me a very sympathetic religion. First of all they don't set people on fire for believing in something else, don't blow themselves up in crowded vegetable markets and are also in other respects far less aggressive than for example the Abrahamic religions (Christians, Jews, Muslims). They don't believe in an old man in the sky who watches every move you make, but simply have an harmonious philosophy with their natural environment, themselves and other people. They don't even have dogmatic suppression of scientific research, do not burn books or pictures - and the best thing is: they have sex! Philosophical Taoism is a nice and colorful way of "explaining" the world around and makes undoubtedly good suggestions how to live in it happily and without annoying others. That's for me as good as a religion can get anyways. Also in the People's Republic of China Taoism is still quite common and under government supervision of a state bureaux called the China Taoist Association.
Zen is a derivative of Mahayana Buddhism which goes back to the Chinese Tang Dynasty and is actively practiced mainly in Japan, Vietnam, Korea, China and also in some Western Regions. It practices a lot of meditation and tries to achieve enlightenment through "emptiness". Enlightenment or not - an interesting experiment has been undertaken by Richard Davidson by examining people with meditation experience in a MRI scanner. It shows that meditation changes the mind and increases attention.
Opposite the Kyoto Museum (which I do not recommend to visit) I bumped into "David's Gallery Cafe". In the back part of the gallery leading to a small workshop I saw a painting of David Kidd by Claire Trevor. David Kidd started his time in Asia in 1946, aged 19, as an exchange student in China where he taught English at suburban colleges. He married Aimee Yu, the daughter of the former Chief of Justice of the supreme court of China and he experienced first hand the Communist Revolution in 1949. The New York Times wrote in his Orbitary in 1996 the he might have been "perhaps the only American in Tiananamen Square for the formal Communist takeover". He published his account in the book Peking Story: The Last Days of The Old China. Another book he published is All the Emporers Horses. After his devorce in the United States he moved to Japan in 1956 and established himself as an art collector and taught at various Universities and Art Institutions.
Traveling by train less than one hour you reach the small town of Nara, which was the capital of Japan before Kyoto (710-784). Nara is a very pretty small town with huge parks. One of the attractions is the Todai-ji Temple, of which the Daibutsuden Hall is the world's largest wooden building. The whole city is full with ancient treasures and relicts, and it needs more than a day trip to explore it. For that case, the 1910 built Nara Hotel is a very nice place to stay over night.