Ruth Spencer on how to achieve a more compact way of life.

Apartments and townhouses are springing up in increasing numbers, but will quarter-acre people cope with closer quarters? Perhaps we should take some tips from Japan. Tokyo holds up to 15 million people during the workday, and while it might feel the same at 7am on the Southern Motorway, it's not.

The Japanese have had more practice at higher-density living and have worked out a system of rules that prevents offending your neighbours, and in turn, stops them from murdering you. It's a win-win we should adopt.

Silence is golden, but your feet are lead. Appease your downstairs neighbours by upholstering your feet with uwabaki, or house slippers. Uwabaki also stop you traipsing any outdoor unpleasantness into the house, so you can leave that job to your dog. The Japanese have separate toilet slippers; a pair of designated loo shoes means what happens in the bathroom stays in the bathroom. If you need gumboots, you're doing it wrong.

So you have slippers on; is that all you're wearing? Stop! If you're wondering if the neighbours can see you sneaking wet and naked from the shower to the linen cupboard, they can, and they know how often you forget your towel and your diet. Replace your curtains with Japanese paper shoji screens. You won't be able to see what anyone else is up to either, but that's a small price to pay to not end up on Instagram as grossneighbour1 #LOL #NSFW.


Perhaps your bedsit doesn't have a bathroom. Perhaps your toilet is in your bedroom - or is the bedroom in the toilet? Either way, it can be socially awkward, but no one will know if you adopt the Japanese bedroll, which rolls up and goes in a cupboard during the day. You can feel sophisticated too, because you already know the Japanese word for futon. It's nothing like your 90s-style futon, which was like sleeping on a panda: it looked cute but was impractical to move and doomed to become extinct. Simply chuck down your duvet and aim your head away from the bowl.

Now that your newly friendly neighbours can't see you naked at home, get to know them better in the communal hot tub. Many larger apartment blocks come with a spa for tenants, which prompts another helpful Japanese etiquette tip: shower before you get in. You'll wish this was enshrined in law as you step into the roiling soup of who-knows-who. No verrucas for you, though - you wore your uwabaki.

Discretion is the better part of apartment living. In Japan phones have a "discreet mode", perfect for thin apartment walls. In restricted space no one wants to hear you scream. You're rightly proud of your Drake ringtone, but for your neighbours' sake conduct your affairs by text. In fact it's probably ideal to have your voicebox removed entirely and communicate solely by emoji which, not surprisingly, the Japanese also invented.

To take a break, pop out into your townhouse's tiny courtyard or apartment balcony. Usually home to a sad cactus to extinguish your cigarette on, or mouldy potplants that drip fetid water on the downstairs neighbour's head, it's no walk in the park. Instead bring the woods into your bedsit with perfectly scaled bonsai trees. If you dream of the suburbs, cultivate a tiny griselinia littoralis hedge in front of the entertainment unit. You won't be able to see the wood veneer for the trees.

Drive through ... or not. Maybe you bought a city apartment so you wouldn't need a car; perhaps you live in a car so you wouldn't need an apartment. Tokyo's tough car policy states you're not allowed to own one unless you can prove you have an off-street carpark. Beat the system by renting a space in a stacking car park, where robot forklifts do your parallel parking for you as nature intended. It may be tempting to rent one of them for yourself and get neatly stacked away at the end of the day; Japan has already thought of that, in the bed-only pods of capsule hotels where surely the etiquette is even more rigid. Pray the Unitary Plan people don't hear about those. High density is our destiny but with Japan's help we face it bravely: silent, nude and in our slippers.