How do the simple teachings of the correct method of realigning one's psyche to the cosmos by a foreign teacher in a foreign land can so readily be accepted by the xenophobic Japanese who then made them distinctively their own? Is it because those teachings fit exactly into the Japanese shared experience of Earth and how Mother Nature can both be giving and neutral.
Zen is the end-result of the teachings of a 6th century master who went to China to correct the way for practicising Buddhism. There was much doggedness and flippancy, and the way out was flexibility and focus. That flexibility which juxtaposes prolonged silent sitting with controlled focused movement and the later gives rise to the famous Shaolin monks. The focus is made in all conscious efforts, whether it be sitting or moving, and the first trick is to understand and accept what comes without acting further to aggravate the situation, and the final trick is to understand that it is all in the mind and nothing else which could in modern science be simply called "neutral".
The big name in Chan is Huineng who was a butcher who left his poor old mother to the care of neighbours in order to work in the kitchen of the temple. Huineng demonstrated his understanding with a few lines on the wall scribbled in the middle of the night, whose handwriting the master recognised who then gave him the authority to be the next master and told to leave the temple immediately that very night so that the competitor could not kill him. From Huineng arose several schools of Chan, and it was the Linzi school which probably had had the biggest influence on the Japanese, who enunciated it as "Zen". I highlighted Linzi because it is the school which beats its disciples with a stick during meditation if the master finds the disciples to be drifting.
The Japanese make a big deal out of Zen because they are perfectionist. If they really want to be "truly unperturbed" they must make a real effort in a equal and opposite response to what must have been a terrible environment for them - the warlords, the serfdom, the fightings and wars, and servitude in addition to natural calamities such as volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis.
The extreme nature of Japanese stoic-ness could be a Malaysian perspective, as we tend to be soft and forgiving, not only to others but particularly to ourselves and our communities. Everything seems to be an excuse for a good giggle.
In Zen, the final lesson is this: In the face of even the most unpleasant external environment, the only response is not to respond. "Be a stone", as an ex-Japan resident used to tell me. Keep still, do not react, do not retaliate - not only in body, but also in mind and spirit and soul.
I think it was only with the deepest inability to contain his emotion when the Governor of Fukushima, Yuhei Sato, said on national television on 16th March 2011, "The worry and anger of the people of Fukushima has been pushed to the limit." This is very unZen-like, but how poignant.