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How Masako Katsura (aka The “First Lady Of Billiards”) Became A Worldwide Sensation

Who Was Masako Katsura?

Masako Katsura was a legend. A world-class female billiards player, she conquered a game that only men were playing. Because of this, she trail-blazed for other women to not only be included in the sport, but to make a serious contribution.

Masako “Katsy” Katsura was the first woman in history to show up on the international billiards stage. In a traditionally male-dominated sport, she was an unprecedented opponent who 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.

Early Days In Tokyo

masako Katsura
Image: @theenlightenedcreative on Instagram

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 had issues with her health from an early age. She had little strength, and felt tired all the time. Because of this, her mother wanted her to take up billiards to make her stronger, both mentally and physically.

Tokyo in the 1920s was quite the time for billiards. Masako Katsura’s brother-in-law owned a pool hall, which was instrumental in the discovery of her natural talent. Naturally, she got a job at the billiard hall, and started to practice her craft every single 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. Known also as the Japanese Willie Hoppe, Matsuyama started to coach the young Katsura. He was also responsible for her introduction to three-cushion billiards.

With her knack for trick shots and a newfound precision with three-cushion billiards, Katsura brought grace to the sport, and started paving a path beyond her wildest dreams.

Taking Her Game To America

masako Katsura
Image: @marist_multicultural_affairs on Instagram

World War II had a damaging effect on Katsura’s rising star. She optimized her career however she could, first by performing a one-woman show for Japanese troops. After the war, she shifted to performing billiard tricks for American troops.

Because of this, her international career was born. News spread quickly of her skill and grace, and a champion by the name of Welker Cochran invited her to visit the USA.

In 1951, Katsura moved to California. It was shocking to her to see the lack of women on the scene at that time. In Japan, women worked and played in billiard halls all over the place. This was not the case in the USA. American billiard halls were for men, by men, and clearly known as a male domain.

The First Lady Of Billiards

masako Katsura
Image: @realhistoryuncovered on Instagram

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.”

The press, however, gave more attention to her gender than her abilities. One paper even called this incredible champion “a real Japanese cue-tee”.

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

After she paved a way for women in the sport, she became a face of billiards all over the world. 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.

She 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 & A Legacy That Lives On

masako Katsura
Image: @kijanmustard on Instagram

Masako Katsura opened a new field for women. She had the “power of a man”, while also making the sport more attractive to women.

Katsura made her last appearance in 1976 at a San Francisco billiards parlour. She grabbed a cue, scored a 100-point run, then basically disappeared. By the ’70s, a group of players formed the Women’s Professional Billiard Association, and inducted Katsura into the Hall of Fame.

masako Katsura
Image: @women_creating_change on Instagram

After moving back to Japan, Masako Katsura passed away in 1995. The impact she’s made on the sport of billiards, as well as culture in general, is outstanding. So much so, in fact, that 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! In fact, you can buy the book about her here as well!

masako katsura
Image: Google Doodles

Thank you “Katsy”. We bow to your contribution, and honour your tenacity.

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