Masako Katsura: The ‘First Lady Of Billiards’

masako katsura
masako katsura
masako katsura

Masako Katsura, a Japanese woman, caught the billiards world by storm in the 1950s, making a reputation for herself in the previously male-dominated sport. Masako Katsura is a Japanese actor.

Masako Katsura made history as the first woman to participate on the world billiards stage.

Willie Hoppe, the unquestioned king of billiards, met an unexpected opponent in 1952: a female player. Masako Katsura had not yet been born when Hoppe won the first of his 51 world titles, but she immediately rose to prominence in Japan.

And Katsura went on to become an international phenomenon, bringing her decades of experience in Tokyo’s billiards rooms to the international arena as the first woman to compete in international competitions.

Katsura appeared out of nowhere for American billiards players. While the press admired Katsura’s costumes and the novelty of a female player, her opponents admired her talent.

This is the story of Masako Katsura, who became renowned as the First Lady of Billiards in the 1950s for breaking the gender barrier in the popular sport.

Masako Katsura: Who Was She?

Masako Katsura began playing billiards when she was 14 years old. Katsura, who was born on March 7, 1913 in Tokyo, grew up under the careful attention of her mother, especially after her father died. Katsura’s mother also advised her to learn to play billiards.

“I felt weak and fatigued all the time,” Katsura explained. “So my mum encouraged me to play billiards in order to exercise and strengthen myself.”

Billiard halls were prominent in Tokyo in the 1920s. Katsura’s brother-in-law had one. Katsura recognized her talent for the sport after picking up a cue. Katsura didn’t take long to start working at the billiard hall and practice every day.

Katsura has a talent for trick shots since she was a child.

Katsura won the Japanese women’s straight-rail championship when she was 15 years old. Kinrey Matsuyama, Japan’s defending champion, was impressed by the teen’s abilities. Matsuyama took over as Katsura’s instructor and taught her three-cushion billiards. Masako Katsura is included in an exhibition.

A 1953 advertising for an exhibition featuring Masako Katsura in the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

The difficult sport demanded accuracy. Players had to strike two object balls while touching the rail cushion three times with the cue ball. Expert players may score double digits in a single turn. Hoppe held the record for the highest-scoring turn, with 25 points.

It was a game recognized for its strength. Men pounded the cue into the balls in order to score more points. Katsura, on the other hand, introduced elegance to the sport.
Masako Katsura Relocates to the United States

Katsura’s billiard career was cut short by World War II. During the war, she put on a one-woman show for Japanese troops. She altered her concentration after the war, performing billiard skills for American troops.

Katsura’s international career was boosted by these performances. One American soldier wrote about Masako Katsura to his father, billiards champion Welker Cochran. “This girl is better than you!” he said. Cochran contacted Katsura and encouraged her to visit the United States.

Katsura had previously won the national women’s billiards competition and had begun participating in the national men’s championship.

Katsura relocated to California in 1951. She discovered a world totally different from the Tokyo halls. Women worked and played in hundreds of billiard establishments back home. However, billiard halls in the United States were exclusively for males.

“I’ve only met one female billiard player in my time here,” Katsura revealed. “A billiard parlor is considered of as a man’s hangout here… It would be nice if there was a billiard parlor for ladies alone.”
Becoming a Billiards International Icon

Masako Katsura burst into the billiard scene in the 1950s and quickly established herself. Welker Cochran, a champion, took over as Katsura’s manager.

“The game has required a woman player with the adequate talent to compete against the finest of men players,” Cochran told media. And I’m now persuaded that it finally has that.”

Katsura rapidly became a media sensation. However, the press was more concerned with her gender than with her abilities. According to one newspaper, the winner is a “true Japanese cue-tee.”

Katsura has been characterized as a “small lady… a wisp of a woman who seems as though she would have difficulty blowing a feather away, but who can instead make billiard balls burst or behave like chastened toddlers.”

Other billiards players were more impressed by Katsura. “In the East, they told me she was good, but I never expected to see anything like this,” Willie Hoppe said. The girl is fantastic. She’ll win her fair share of bouts against the greatest of them.”
Mr. Willie Hoppe

Willie Hoppe, a billiards champion in his youth, about 1910s.

A much-hyped 1952 encounter between Hoppe and Katsura was portrayed differently by the press. Hoppe won the world championship 51 times. Katsura was a little Japanese lady.

“No gentleman should treat a complete stranger, much alone a nicely proportioned young girl in a gold satin evening gown, as Willie Hoppe did Miss Masako Katsura last night,” the San Francisco Chronicle said. “With a billiard cue, he socked her well.”

Katsura became the first woman to play in an international billiards event, while failing to dethrone Hoppe as world champion.
The Last Years of Billiards’ First Lady

Masako Katsura became one of the popular sport’s faces after breaking the gender barrier in billiards. She featured on network television shows in 1958. In international events, she remained around the head of the pack.

However, Katsura retired in 1961 following a difficult loss against the current world champion.
Tournament of 1952

Cochran, Katsura’s long-time coach, acknowledged her abilities. “Masako has paved the way for women. For the first time, her presence has made the game appealing to women. But she wields manly force.”

In 1976, the First Lady of Billiards made one final appearance. She walked into a billiards parlor in San Francisco, took up a cue, and went on a 100-point streak. Then she dropped the cue and walked away.

Billiards had evolved by the 1970s. The Women’s Professional Billiard Association was founded in that decade by a group of players. Katsura was honored into their Hall of Fame. Masako Katsura, the previous champion, returned to Japan and died in 1995.

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