Who Was Masako Katsura? The First Lady Of Billiards

Masako Katsura was a world-renowned female billiards player who broke through barriers in a male-dominated sport at a young age. She was the first woman in history to compete on the international billiards stage, and she quickly made a name for herself in Japan.

From there, she started to conquer the rest of the world as the “First Lady of billiards,” competing and winning in international tournaments, regardless of her opponent.

Masako Katsura Billiards

About Pool Masako Katsura

At the early age of 14, Masako Katsura stared playing billiards. She was born in Tokyo in 1913, and grew up in a strict household. After her father passed away, her mother became even more watchful over her, and encouraged her to take up billiards.

Masako Katsura had health problems from a young age. She was very weak and felt tired all the time. Her mother thought billiards would make her stronger, both mentally and physically, so she encouraged Masako to take up the sport.

Masako Katsura Billiards Origins

Tokyo in the 1920s was quite the time for billiards. Masako Katsura’s brother-in-law owned a pool hall, which was how she was discovered. Naturally, she got a job at the billiard hall and started practicing every day.

She won her first championship at 15 years old. Because of this, she attracted the attention of Japan’s champion at the time, Kinrey Matsuyama.

Also known as the Japanese Willie Hoppe, Matsuyama started coaching the young Katsura. He was also responsible for her introduction to three-cushion billiards.

With her talent for performing trickshots and newfound accuracy with three-cushion billiards, Katsura brought a touch of elegance to the sport and started working towards goals she never thought possible.

World War II disrupted Katsura’s promising career; however, she did everything she could to keep her career alive. First, she performed a one-woman show for Japanese troops. After the war, she started performing billiard tricks for American troops.

Because of this, her international career took off. People quickly began to hear of her skill and grace, and champion Welker Cochran invited her to visit the USA.

In 1951, Katsura moved to California. She was surprised to see the lack of women in the billiards scene at that time. In Japan, women worked and played in billiard halls all over the place. This was not the norm in the USA. American billiard halls were male-dominated spaces.

Billiards Player Masako Katsura

Katsura started working with Welker Cochran as her manager. He advocated for her in media, saying things like:

“The game has needed a woman player with skill enough to compete against the greatest of men players. And I’m convinced now that it’s finally got just that.”

Although she was an incredible champion, the press paid more attention to her gender than her abilities. One paper even called her “a real Japanese cue-tee”.

Fortunately, other billiards players gave Katsura the respect she deserved. As she started playing more and more champions, she rose up in the ranks. Both the media and her adversaries looked on in awe as she did.

She became a face of billiards all over the world after she paved the way for women in the sport. Through the 50s, she ranked near the top in all of her international tournaments, winning and placing successfully, regardless of her gender. In 1961, however, she retired after a hard loss to Harold Worst, the reigning world champion.

Katsura was the first woman to compete in an international billiards tournament, making her literally “the First Lady of billiards” and a staple of billiard history.

Masako Katsura carved out a new path for women, demonstrating that they could have the “power of a man” while also making the sport more attractive to women.

Her last known public appearance was in 1976 at a San Francisco billiards parlour. She grabbed a cue, scored a 100-point run, then seemingly vanished. By the ’70s, a group of players had formed the Women’s Professional Billiard Association, and they promptly inducted Katsura into the Hall of Fame.

Masako Katsura Age at Death

82 years

Masako Katsura passed away in 1995 after moving back to Japan. The impact she made on the sport of billiards, as well as culture in general, is immense.

She’s now regularly depicted in pop art, articles about powerful women who’ve made an impact, and she even has her own Google Doodle animation!


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