As they've done in other areas—manufacturing, mass transit, martial arts, flower arranging—the Japanese have ritualized the mundane so the process of bathing has become "a way" of its own. Thus along with material grime, the parboiled bather soaks away the compromised ideals and smudged dreams a Tokyoite accepts while earning a living in a city crowded like you wouldn't believe.
The Way of Bathing is so ingrained in the Japanese psyche that only curious foreigners think it unique, much less worth writing about.
Resident aliens who get used to the Japanese bath and shoeless homes are often reluctant to take up old ways on returning to their native lands. Americans able to acclimatize themselves to bath water that is too hot to even joke about will thereafter find the U.S. preference for tepid, quickie showers to be unsatisfactory bordering on the barbaric.
It is through such shedding of some of one's native ways, however mundane they may seem, for more exotic but personally satisfying alternatives that expatriation runs its course. After years of such picking and choosing from among the world's splendid diversity, the solo adventurer achieves a sort of psychological escape velocity. The tug of one's native conditioning is overcome and put into proper perspective.
Living in strange lands reverses the process of traveling abroad for short annual trips before circling back into the cultural mousehole of one's birth. For the resident ex-pat, the original mousehole becomes the place visited from the far-off port one now calls home.
In a bid to keep its citizens from eyeing the horizon too longingly, all societies permeate their popular and sacred literature with a soothing delusion: "Ours is the best land on earth. All others envy us and would emigrate here—if we let them."
The comparative few who manage to live abroad rather than just travel there—those who allow their toes time to get used to hellish waters—discover the sustenance of the expatriate. This balm is best described by novelist Tom Robbins in Jitterbug Perfume:
Perhaps the most terrible (or wonderful) thing that can happen to an imaginative youth, aside from the curse (or blessing) of imagination itself, is to be exposed without preparation to the life outside his or her own sphere—the sudden revelation that there is a there out there.