1. The film opens with a shot of Tokyo (urban jungle) and a description of the rapid changes in Japanese society; against this background Buddhism in Japan is an oasis of stability. Yet this Buddhism is very different from Sri Lankan Buddhism, and shows the differences not only between the Theravada and the Mahayana, but between differing cultural influences (hence his question "If the Buddha from Sri Lanka met the Buddha from Japan, would they recognize each other?").
2. The film's first major segment looks at Zen Buddhism, in two contexts. The first is a session of sitting meditation (zazen) at a Tokyo restaurant, with the owner, Mr. Tahnee, striding purposefully among his meditating employees, and occasionally giving one a whack on the shoulders with a stick that the Zen monks named "encouragement." The second context is the house of a Zen master who teaches sword fighting and calligraphy. Because of its emphasis on experiencing the moment (every moment), and recognizing the transitory quality of life, Zen was very popular with the samurai class. In his calligraphy exercise the master draws an empty circle, which he describes as the "pinnacle of zen" (that is, Emptiness). The master also stresses that the Buddha is not something outside of us, but is indeed our very Self (this is the notion of the Buddha-nature inherent in all things, which is a central Zen idea).
3. After this, the narrator takes the bullet train to Kyoto, past Mt. Fuji. On the way he stops at a Shinto shrine (in which the deity is present in a sacred mirror), and at the head temple of the Soka Gakkai movement. Soka Gakkai is one of the "New Religions" in Japan, and is an offshoot of the Nichiren sect. As with most of the New Religions, they claim that their practice is the most appropriate for a degenerate age, and that every other practice is useless.
4. In Kyoto he meets with a hereditary leader of one of the Pure Land Sects, visits with a family that is one of its members, and visits with a factory owner (Mr. Sugita) who is a Pure Land devotee. There is also considerable introduction to Pure Land theology (depending for salvation on the grace of Amida Buddha, rather than on one's own efforts), and the notion of the bodhisattva as a Mahayana ideal.
5. After this Pure Land interlude, he goes back to looking at Zen Buddhism (as he says "with new eyes"): first an archery master, and then tea with two Zen tea masters (in both cases, showing the Zen emphasis on focused attention, and turning things from everyday life into religious practice). The final sections have him visiting two Zen monasteries, to speak with the abbots about Zen Buddhism. The first monastery has one of the famous "dry gardens" (with raked stones instead of grass), and the abbot gives him direct answers about the importance of meditation as a way to know oneself. In the second monastery (a Zen training monastery), the film closes with a sanzan (daily encounter) between master and disciple. Each disciple has been meditating on a koan, and comes to a meeting with the master to give a response to it. The master evaluates the disciple's response (since the koan is a a question with no answer, the content of the answer is irrelevant, what is important is the manner in which the answer is given), and then gives the disciple further instruction. This final sequence highlights the Zen claim that it is a "special teaching outside the scriptures," based on the direct intuition of one's inner nature. The teacher cannot give this to one, but he (or she) can try to point the student in the right direction.