My Photoshoot at Sudeley Castle & Gardens – “The Most Romantic Castle in England”

On Friday 25 November, my husband Roy and I had the honour of visiting Sudeley Castle and Gardens in Winchcombe in the south-west of England for a photoshoot and it was a truly memorable experience! Sudeley Castle is said to be “the most romantic castle in England” and Roy and I can certainly attest to that. I’ve visited a lot of stately homes, castles, and places of historical interest over the past twelve years during my time in the UK, but Sudeley Castle really stands out as the most breath-taking and fascinating estate I’ve ever had the pleasure to visit.


I visited Sudeley Castle with a purpose. I needed a high-resolution photo and I thought Sudeley Castle would be a fantastic location for the photos. I’d also been thinking of updating my profile photo for social media (this was long overdue) and we obviously couldn’t take any old photo of me with my phone so I decided to arrange a photoshoot somewhere special and this Tudor castle, with its glorious grounds and its fascinating library, was the perfect choice.


I called Astrid Martin, the Corporate Events and Weddings Manager at Sudeley Castle, and
when I spoke to her I was delighted to discover she was very professional and also absolutely
charming and obliging. Astrid met us on the Friday morning at the castle and guided us around the stunning gardens (the Knot Garden is pictured on the left) and the Banqueting Hall.

Later in the day, we were given permission to take some photos in The Dent Brocklehurst Family’s Private Library inside Sudeley Castle (pictured below). One of my favourite authors is Charles Dickens so I was very pleased to discover a copy of David Copperfield by Dickens on the bookshelf in the library. We were also shown Charles I’s despatch box which was used during the Battle of Naseby, a beautiful 16th-century Sheldon tapestry, and priceless works of art including a portrait of Rubens by Van Dyke, all of these exquisitely preserved in this resplendent library.

The Dent Brocklehurst Family’s Private Library

After the photoshoot, Astrid told us there were several ghosts haunting Sudeley Castle and one ghost in particular hovers in the hall between the library and the kitchen. Interestingly enough, we stopped walking exactly where the ghost is said to exist and we realised we had to head back to the library. Maybe this ghost prompted us to pause and turn around!

Sudeley Castle is steeped in history and contains treasures dating back to ancient Roman
times but it’s also very famous for being the only privately owned castle to have a queen buried in its grounds. On 30 August 1548, Queen Katherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII, gave birth to her daughter Mary here but unfortunately, she died seven days later. She is buried in St Mary’s church in the grounds of Sudeley Castle. Queen Katherine Parr can be seen resting serenely in her marble burial place (pictured below) in this beautiful chapel, bordered by the very elegant and pretty White Garden.


Obviously, Queen Katherine Parr is extremely famous for being the final queen consort of the House of Tudor but as a writer I was immeasurably impressed by the fact that Katherine Parr (alternatively spelled Catherine or Kateryn) was the first woman in history to have a book published in English using her own name. 

Sudeley Castle has a lot of royal connections: Henry VII granted the castle to his uncle Jasper Tudor after the Wars of the Roses but it was returned to the monarch and became the property of King Henry VIII after his death. Henry VIII visited the castle with his second wife Anne Boleyn in 1535 but following Henry’s death in 1547 Sudeley Castle was passed on to King Edward VI who granted the castle to his uncle Thomas Seymour, the brother of Queen Jane Seymour and Katherine Parr’s fourth husband (Katherine Parr and Seymour married in secret because the Regency council didn’t approve of their union only six months after Henry’s death).

Arial view of Sudeley Castle

Sudeley Castle is definitely a must-see attraction for tourists and the perfect place for a dreamy wedding or an important function. Your special occasion here will become part of the castle’s history and your event will be remembered forever by your family and your guests. In fact, the English international model and actress Liz Hurley famously married Arun Nayar at Sudeley Castle in 2007. The castle and its grounds can provide spacious dining, catering, and waiting staff in the Banqueting Hall and Terrace Pavilion for up to 120 guests and the library can be used for more intimate events (pictured below).

Wedding ceremony in the library

Please contact Astrid Martin directly at Sudeley Castle on +44 (0) 1242 602 308  if you’re interested in having a special event here. I can assure you Astrid will go the extra mile to make sure you have a fantastic experience during your time at the castle.


I can also highly recommend Katy Pheiffer and Charles McArther if you’re looking for a first-class makeup artist and an excellent photographer. Katy is listed as one of the top five makeup artists in Gloucestershire and both Charles and Katy are willing to travel all over the UK and abroad for events. Thank you, Katy and Charles for your professionalism and for the wonderful makeup and photographs. Below is a photo of me taken by Charles McArthur at Sudeley Castle in front of the door leading to the Banqueting Hall.


Finally, I’d like to sincerely thank Astrid Martin, Lady Ashcombe, and the Dent-Brocklehurst family at Sudeley Castle for giving us the opportunity to visit the castle in November and for making our day extra special.

The photos in this blog post are courtesy of the Sudeley Castle & Gardens website, the Historic Houses Association website, and Charles McArthur Photography.

Cherry Blossom Stories Xmas Competition: Win a Signed Copy of TOKYO TALES and a CHERRY BLOSSOM SOLID PERFUME from Amygdala

THIS COMPETITION HAS NOW ENDED. The winner is Kaz Asami @azami_kaz on Twitter. Congratulations Kaz, you’ve won a signed copy of my book Tokyo Tales: A Collection of Japanese Short Stories with illustrations by Yoshimi Ohtani and a Cherry Blossom Fragance by Amygdala!

This Christmas I’m offering you the chance to win a signed copy of my book TOKYO TALES: A COLLECTION OF JAPANESE SHORT STORIES with gorgeous illustrations by YOSHIMI OHTANI OF ARTas1 and a CHERRY BLOSSOM SOLID PERFUME by AMYGDALA from Not On The High Street.


All you need to do is RETWEET THE PINNED TWEET ON TWITTER andLIKE” MY CHERRY BLOSSOM STORIES FACEBOOK PAGE for your chance to win. Don’t worry if you’re not on Facebook because your retweet on Twitter will still count!

The winner will be announced on 09 December, 2016 at 12 p.m. GMT.



The main prize, a signed  paperback copy of my book Tokyo Tales: A Collection of Japanese Short Stories is also available to buy in paperback and eBook from more than 60 retailers worldwide including Amazon Kindle, Nook, iBooks, and Kobo. This book includes a hellish homestay, ghosts, school bullying, a marriage arrangement and a story dedicated to the kawaii culture.

This Cherry Blossom Solid Perfume below is also part of the prize and it’s by Amygdala from Not On The High Street.  Made with beeswax, coconut oil, shea butter and parfum blend, this recipe has been perfected to create a silky luxuriant texture that glides onto the skin to leave an invisible and scented finish. This perfume is not tested on animals and it’s suitable for vegetarians, but not vegans as it contains beeswax (£10 plus delivery).



Below are some more cherry blossom-inspired gifts from Not On The High Street that really caught my eye. If you’re looking for some unique gift ideas for Christmas these lovely items might be the perfect presents for those special people in your life:


These Cherry Blossom Biscuits are made by Eat My Cake London. You get four pretty, handmade, hand-iced, blossom biscuits in a gift box. Each delicious biscuit is iced in a delicate shade of pink, and topped with tiny yellow stamen. They are made from biscuit, flour, sugar, butter, eggs. royal icing, icing sugar, pasteurised egg whites. Once opened you should store them in an airtight container. They are best eaten within three months. (£8 plus delivery)

This beautiful Illuminated Cherry Blossom Bonsai Tree is a stylish home accessory. Forty-eight clear blossom caps cover this 45cm tree and each houses one warm white LED bulb to create a cosy atmosphere when illuminated. Super safe, the LED bulbs stay cool so you can safely leave this tree lit with little fingers and fabrics. This beautiful bonsai tree features a hand wrapped trunk and branches for an authentic feel and it sits on a sturdy metal base. With a 5m brown lead cable to the low voltage transformer (plug), you’ll find it a breeze to place anywhere in your home and each stem can be twisted and shaped into position so you can choose to have a full or swept looking tree. (£20 plus delivery)


This Blossom Wrap-around Bangle with Swarovski Crystals by J&S JEWELLERY is a gorgeous bracelet made with shimmering Swarovski crystals. It’s also available in silver and rose gold plating with different pastel coloured crystals. A matching ring and ear crawlers are also available. (From £24 plus delivery)


This Japanese Self Wrap Book Cover by MUSUBI LONDON is an elegant double-sided Japanese cloth (known as ‘furoshiki’ in Japan) – perfect as a book cover. Beautifully designed and printed in Japan, these plum tree and blossom patterned furoshikis offer double sided usability. You can customise your favourite books, alternate your daily lunchbox wrap, or even gift wrap a ‘his and hers’ present to your closest friends. The ‘small’ size range from Musubi London is a great starting point for furoshiki users. This practical size provides plenty of flexibility for everyday use – there are no rules, just sort, organise and get creative with this versatile cloth. (£8 plus delivery)


This Multi Blossom Pendant Necklace by DANIEL MUSSELWHITE JEWELLERY  features sterling silver petals with 9ct yellow gold stamens. A small cluster of different sized cherry blossom flowers hang together beautifully on a silver snake chain. 1cm (10mm) across on a 40 or 45cm sterling silver snake chain. The largest blossom flower is approximately 1.5cm across and the smallest is 9mm. (£170 plus delivery)


Finally, this large ‘Cherry Blossom’ Pure Silk Scarf by Wonderland Boutique has a pale apricot background and it comes beautifully gift wrapped in pink tissue paper in a pink bag with a silk ribbon. L180cm x W115cm. (£39 plus delivery)


8 Foods You Must Try When You Visit Tokyo

These days, there are thousands of Western-style restaurants and cafés as well as kebab houses, pancake parlours, burger joints, pastry shops, and all sorts of other international eateries, offering first-class and extremely tempting dishes, all over Tokyo. You’ll have no trouble at all finding Western foods and meals that will delight your senses in Shibuya, Harajuku, Shinjuku, Ginza, and many of the other famous areas in Tokyo during your stay, but that’s not what this blog post is all about. If you’ve decided to visit Japan or if you’re returning for another trip, you must be interested in exploring the Japanese culture and experiencing the “real Japan”. So, if you want a more authentic and enjoyable stay and if you plan to leave with some great memories, then steer clear of as much Western-style food as possible.


When I visited Japan in the nineties and when I lived there in the noughties, the only reasonably priced Western-style food that didn’t taste like Japanese food to me was McDonald’s, KFC, and the submarine sandwiches at the American fast food chain Subway, and I had to travel all the way to Ginza to eat those submarines. Don’t get me wrong, I love love love Japanese food and I could eat it eleven out of the twelve months of the year, but if you’ve ever lived in Japan you’ll know just how much you crave Western food after a few months of eating wa-shoku (food of Japan) every day. But no matter how much you enjoy tucking into a succulent rib-eye steak, a tall stack of pancakes, or an al dente bowl of spaghetti Bolognese, if you’re planning to visit Japan you really should try and eat as much wa-shoku as possible and stay away from those fastfood outlets you’ve grown up with or the fancy restaurants with familiar looking Western food.

Did you know wa-shoku (food of Japan) was listed in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2013? This is because Japanese food truly reflects the Japanese culture. That doesn’t mean you need to spend a lot of money eating Kaiseki ryōri (multicourse haute cuisine in Japan) every night of your stay and you probably couldn’t do this anyway because this style of food is so expensive. Although Kaiseki ryōri is a beautiful representation of seasonality, simplicity, and sophistication, my list below includes foods and meals in Tokyo that are available nearly everywhere in Japan. All these foods are exactly what Japanese people like to eat on a regular basis and the kind of food Japanese people crave when they live outside of Japan. You’ll also be pleased to know everything on my list shouldn’t break the bank and most Westerners really like all these Japanese foods and meals.

1. Pork Katsu Curry

Until recently, Chicken Tikka Masala was voted the most popular international dish in Britain so that tells me a lot of Brits love eating curries, but how many people in the UK have tried Japanese curry? Better still, how many people have tried Japanese curry with a breaded deep-fried pork cutlet?!? Don’t worry, if you’ve never tried it. Katsu curry is not very spicy but it’s full of flavour. I recommend the Monsunakku (モンスナック) restaurant near Shinjuku-sanchōme station for pork katsu curry. It’s located under the Kinokuniya bookshop. They’ve been in business for over forty years.

2. Yakitori

For a cheap and cheerful meal you must try yakitori. This is basically different types of grilled chicken served on skewers. If you speak Japanese you can ask for it to be made to order or if your Japanese language skills aren’t very good then you can just ask for a variety. One of the best places to eat yakitori is at Memory Lane in Shinjuku ( 新宿西口思い出横丁 or Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho).


3. Unadon

Unagi is actually eel. Unadon is eel served on rice. Now, before I hear you squeal and complain about how you’d never eat eel, you need to know this is absolutely delicious. The fillets of eel are cooked in what is called a kabayaki style so it has a kind of teriyaki taste and it’s served to you on a bowl of rice or in more expensive restaurants it’s served in a fancy square lacquer box and called unajū.


4. Onigiri

This rice ball in a triangular or circular shape wrapped in nori seaweed is a great snack and it’s available from every convenience store in Japan. Don’t be put off by the fact it’s sold in a convenience store. Onigiri and lots of other Japanese-style bentō lunch boxes are brought in fresh every day and many Japanese people, especially poor students, practically live on onigiri and other convenience store meals. These rice balls have all sorts of healthy fillings. Look out for the salmon or tuna with mayonnaise varieties – most Westerners love these.


5. Tempura

This dish is a big favourite with nearly all Westerners. Seafood (such as king prawns) and vegetables are coated in a light batter, deep fried, and served with a tentsuyu dipping sauce made from mirin, soy sauce, dashi and sugar. Delicious!! For a more substantial meal you could order tendon – tempura on rice in a bowl.


6. Shabu-shabu

This is going to cost you a little bit more than the other dishes but it’s the perfect meal choice if you’re travelling in a group or as a family. It’s an easy, fun, and enjoyable way to eat a meal. All you do is place thinly sliced pieces of meat and vegetables into a hotpot boiling in front of you for a couple of minutes until that bit is cooked and tender, then you take it out with your chopsticks and dip it into either a sesame or a ponzu sauce before savouring the taste. You then repeat the process until all the meat and vegetables are cooked and eaten. Shabu-shabu literally means swish-swish in English. It’s an onomatopoeia for the sound you make when you cook the meal!


7. Ramen

You must have heard of this dish! You know all those 2-minute noodles every adolescent boy craves when he’s starving, well that’s a little bit like this, but ramen in Japan is so much better, so chashu-ramenmuch tastier, very cheap to eat, and the perfect quick meal. Ramen in Japan is Chinese noodles cooked in a broth flavoured with shoyu, salt or miso and topped with meat and/or vegetables and condiments. I think nearly all Westerners would enjoy Chashu ramen: Noodles topped with several slices of braised pork belly and served in a broth with lots of appetising condiments (see photo on the left).

8. Sushi

Sushi is available from takeaway stands and served up on platters in restaurants all over the world but you have to watch your wallet and where you decide to eat sushi a little bit more when you eat sushi in Japan. Time Out Tokyo says there are 5,000 sushi restaurants in Tokyo but you could easily end up paying more than ¥10,000 (£80/$95) per person at high-end establishments. If a sushi restaurant looks posh from the outside and the interior looks extremely modern or very traditional and luxurious inside then walk away unless you have a bucketload of money!


One of the best places to try delicious and fresh sushi and sashimi in Tokyo at an affordable price is at Tsukiji wholesale fish market. Currently, there are plans being made to relocate this famous fish market in Tokyo so check with the concierge at your hotel for details on what time to go, where to go, and how to make a reservation if you want to go inside the wholesale market.

You can also try sushi at the very popular kaiten-zushi conveyer belt sushi restaurants scattered throughout Tokyo. These sushi eateries offer quick and affordable meals. You can easily work out your bill because you pay for each plate you take off the conveyer belt.


The prices vary depending on what’s on the plate. The prices of each plate are added together at the end by the staff and the price of your drinks are added to this to give you your total bill. Hub Japan has a great blog post worth checking out titled

“10 Best Conveyor Belt Sushi in Tokyo to Enjoy Cheap Tasty Sushi if you’re looking for the best kaiten-zushi in Tokyo”.


Well, I hope my list has left you salivating and thinking about what you’re going to eat during your trip to Japan. Of course, there are a lot more great dishes and foods to try in Tokyo. Feel free to share your favourites.

5 Awesome Reasons Why You Should Learn a Second Language (i.e. Japanese)

I consider myself lucky, very lucky! I had the opportunity to start learning French and Italian when I was eleven years old at Genazzano FCJ College in Australia and my language teachers were good, in fact they were excellent. So much so that I decided to continue studying French and Italian and pick up a third language, Japanese, when I began my Bachelor of Arts Degree at Monash University in Melbourne. A few years later, I graduated with a BA in Japanese studies and I went to Japan with a great deal of enthusiasm to teach English in Tokyo. Decades later, I’ve travelled to more than ten countries all over the world and I’ve met thousands of people from different cultures and from all walks of life. I’ve heard their stories, listened to their gripes, and marvelled at their hopes and dreams as I’ve sat beside them trying to understand what they’re trying to share with me in their native language or in broken English. Would I have been inspired to meet so many people and visit so many places if I hadn’t learnt several languages? I don’t think so! Below are 5 reasons why I think you should learn a second language. I hope this list will inspire you to expand your horizons, both literally and figuratively.

1. You’ll broaden your mind: It’s great to travel but it’s even better to be able to understand what other people are saying in different countries. If you learn Japanese, or any other language, you’ll be able to appreciate why people behave in a certain way and how much a language can influence that particular culture. Basically, you’ll be able to interact with people in foreign countries so much more if you speak their language and this will allow you to understand how the world works collectively rather than as separate countries with their own sets of rules and customs. You’ll also have the skills to educate people in your own country about other cultures. You’ll be able explain to them in an intelligent and educated way why foreign people, their customs, and their actions and opinions are so different from your own.

2. You’ll be less discriminating and a much nicer person: As you’re probably aware, the Brexit situation in the UK has had a global impact but closer to home in the UK there has also been a considerable rise in post-Brexit hate crime. This crime has developed from a lack of understanding towards other cultures, as well as misinformation and poor education, and obviously downright discrimination and racism. When you travel to other countries or if you live in another country like Japan, you are forced to adapt to their way of living and you become the foreigner. You quickly adapt to avoid possible confrontations and you realise a lot of your fears are unfounded when you learn the language and discover why other cultures behave differently compared to your own culture. If more people in the UK advocating hate crime were able to speak more languages and understand other cultures and the struggles many people face every day, then this could greatly reduce the number of people involved in hate crime and it would make these people generally much nicer human beings.

3. You’ll be prepared for international work opportunities and you’ll have lots of international friends: Even though many people go to university, graduates often find it’s difficult to get their dream job in their own country. If you add a second language to the mix, you’ll be able to work in a variety of countries all over the world. You may even get a much better job than your peers who don’t speak a foreign language. Lots of people go to Japan to teach English even though they don’t speak the Japanese language. When these teachers get bored of their English teaching position they often return to their own countries. If you speak Japanese there are a lot of other jobs available to expats in Japan besides teaching, even with basic Japanese language skills. In fact, there are international positions available all the time for people who speak a second language so you can greatly improve your job prospects and at the same time live in different places all over the world. Also, think of all the friends you’ll make from all corners of the globe!

4. You’ll save lots of money and experience the real Japan:
My husband and I are planning another trip to Japan next year and this time we thought it would be a good idea to book a hotel in Roppongi, an area where there are lots of foreigners so Roy wouldn’t feel as alienated as he did on the last trip (because he doesn’t speak Japanese), but we’ve changed our minds. We realised every restaurant and café surrounding the hotels in Roppongi would be three times more expensive than anywhere else. Any restaurant/bar/café in Japan that caters for foreigners with English menus and English speaking staff is always going to cost you a lot more than places that are set up for the locals. My husband loves the fact I speak Japanese and he really enjoyed visiting Tokyo and the Kansai area during our last trip to Japan. He thought it was great that we could go anywhere in Japan without any problems because of my language skills. Next year, we’ve decided we’re going to save ourselves some money and mix with the locals again instead of eating at foreigner-friendly restaurants. I’m sure we’ll have even more opportunities to experience the real Japan.

5. Learning a second language will increase your appreciation of the English language: Many years ago, I thought my favourite language was Japanese. It’s just such a fascinating language and the structure of the Japanese language really encourages you to think of others and their needs and wants rather than your own. However, I now live in the UK and I write books and I also read extensively in English. Knowing other languages, how they work, and how they impact different people and different countries all over the world has made me so proud of my native language. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a literature snob who only reads the classics and The Times newspaper on the weekend, I do occasionally flick through a Closer magazine or Marie Claire at the hairdressers, but every time I read books by William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Jane Austen I feel incredibly proud and privileged that I can understand their true worth and appreciate their pure genius because I’m a native English speaker. I’m also a big fan of popular fiction and indie books, especially if they’re Japan-related. Admittedly, I do try to watch and listen to a lot of material on the internet in the Japanese language. I end up juggling my time between keeping up my foreign language skills and writing and reading as many books as I can in English. To summarize, I know deep down I would never love the English language as much as I do now if I hadn’t learnt and continue to learn other languages and for that reason I highly recommend learning a second language, if only to develop an incredible appreciation for your own language and your very own unique culture.

I’d just like to add a very special thank you to Mrs Horrigan, my French teacher at Genazzano. This wonderful teacher truly inspired every student in all of her classes to enjoy learning the French language. Mrs Horrigan was quite strict but she was an excellent teacher and she definitely passed on to all of us her love of the French language and the beauty of the French culture and its customs. Mrs Horrigan really inspired me to spend the rest of my life learning languages and I’ll always appreciate this.