There are a lot of similarities between JSR184 and Java3D, but they are similarities, and nothing more. It's like the similarities between the OpenSceneGraph/OpenSG and Java3D (not to mention X3D/VRML). They are scenegraph-based APIs that allow both retained and immediate mode rendering. Structurally, they all look similar. There's only so many ways that you can describe transformations, shapes, appearances etc. They're Well Known(TM) terms in scenegraph-world.
Knowing J3D isn't exactly a definite requirement or help in learning JSR184. If you have any experience with any reasonably modern scenegraph system, you should be right to go. There are some minor differences (the scene tree structure rather than scene graph I mentioned earlier). If you understand the basic concepts, picking up JSR184 isn't that hard. You could consider it as a Java3D v2 - learning from all the things that didn't go right in J3D and applying those lessons to the new API - but also with a large focus on the mobile market.
which it would have through the Xj3D-loader if apps like Maya started to support X3D more completely
There is some of that already happening. However, in our experience, it seems that the majority of developers are using MAX, not Maya. The Web3D Consortium's Source Code Taskgroup is running an open source project for the MAX exporter. It's doing reasonably well already and supports X3D (not XML though, IIRC). The group is looking to start up a Maya exporter too, but they need someone to take on the responsibility of starting it up and getting running with the code. The Maya SDK has a slightly older exporter for X3D already that could be used as the basis for the project.
Said that, java3d in current form has a lot of deficiencies - especially if you want to use it for gaming. But for me, correct sentence is 'java3d is doing this and this wrong', not 'nobody needs java3d, everybody can write their own, better scenegraph'.
I'd agree there. Audio support is shocking, and the texture system is really bad. One of the things that has pissed me off really badly right from the start is the complete lack of integration with any of the other Java Media APIs. That has been a huge drawback for doing stuff like compositing and layered applications - things that should have been trivially easy, but are close to impossible to do with the setup today.