25 March, 2023

Celebrating Masako Katsura, the Enigmatic ‘First Lady of Billiards’

Masako Katsura

Masako Katsura, a Japanese woman, revolutionised the world of pool in the 1950s and became well-known in the historically male-dominated sport.

The uncontested champion of pool, Willie Hoppe, competed against a female player for the first time in 1952. Hoppe won the first of his 51 world championships before Masako Katsura was even born, but she immediately became well-known in Japan.

And as the first woman to play in an international tournament, Katsura finally rose to fame on a global scale, bringing her decades of experience in Tokyo’s billiards halls to the fore.

Katsura appeared out of nowhere to American pool players. And although the press delighted over Katsura’s attire and the novelty of a female player, her opponents wowed over her abilities.

This is the tale of Masako Katsura, who in the 1950s broke the gender barrier in the popular sport of pool and earned the title of “First Lady of Billiards.”

Who was is Masako Katsura?

Masako Katsura began playing pool when she was 14 years old. Katsura was born in Tokyo on March 7, 1913, and was raised primarily by her mother after her father’s death. And Katsura’s mother advised her to learn how to play pool.

Katsura claimed, “I was weak and exhausted all the time. Therefore, in order to make me stronger and get exercise, my mother wanted me to play pool.

Billiards rooms were common in Tokyo in the 1920s. In fact, Katsura’s brother-in-law had one. Katsura realised she had a gift for the game after she learned how to use a cue. Katsura didn’t take long to begin playing daily and working at the pool hall.

Katsura won the women’s straight-rail championship in Japan at the age of 15. The current champion of Japan, Kinrey Matsuyama, was impressed by the teen’s abilities. Matsuyama took on the role of Katsura’s coach and taught her how to play three-cushion pool.

The difficult sport needed dexterity. Players had to strike two object balls while hitting the cue ball three times on the rail cushion. Expert players may score ten points in a single turn. With a score of 25 points, world champion Hoppe held the record for the best turn.

A powerful game was being played. In order to score more points, men pounded the cue into the balls. But Katsura added grace to the game.

Masako Katsura Moves To America

Katsura’s career in pool was put on hold by World War II. She gave a one-woman show to the Japanese soldiers during the war. She changed her focus after the war and began entertaining American soldiers with billiards feats.

The worldwide career of Katsura was boosted by those performances. One American soldier wrote home about Masako Katsura to his father, billiards champion Welker Cochran. “This chick is better than you are,” he exclaimed. Cochran contacted Katsura and urged her to travel to the United States.

Before she did, Katsura began playing in the national men’s championship after winning the women’s billiards competition.

Katsura relocated to California in 1951. She discovered a universe that was very dissimilar from Tokyo’s hallways. Women worked and played in countless pool halls back home. However, American pool halls were exclusively for men.

While I have been here, I have only encountered one female pool player,” Katsura acknowledged. “A billiards room is considered a man’s place here… You know, it would be great if there was a pool hall exclusively for ladies.

Becoming An International Billiards Sensation

In the 1950s, Masako Katsura burst into the pool scene and quickly established herself. Welker Cochran, a champion, was appointed Katsura’s manager.

“The game has needed a woman player with skill enough to compete against the best of men players,” Cochran reportedly told media. And I’m now persuaded that it has finally achieved it.

Katsura gained notoriety quite rapidly. However, the media was more interested in her gender than in her professional abilities. One article referred to the winner as a “genuine Japanese cue-tee.”

One person called Katsura a “little lady” who “seems like she would have trouble blowing a feather away, but who instead can make billiard balls burst, or act like chastened toddlers.”

Katsura received more respect from other pool players. “In the East they told me she was good, but I never expected to witness anything like this,” Willie Hoppe exclaimed. The girl is amazing. She’ll triumph in a few games against the finest of them.

A highly anticipated 1952 duel between Hoppe and Katsura received various coverage in the media. Hoppe won the world championship 51 times. Japanese woman Katsura was a small woman.

The San Francisco Chronicle wrote, “No gentleman should treat a complete stranger, let alone an elegantly proportioned young girl in a gold satin evening gown, the way Willie Hoppe did Miss Masako Katsura last night.” “He gave her a nice socket with a pool cue,” someone said.

Katsura was the first woman to take part in an international billiards competition, but she was unable to unseat Hoppe as world champion.

The Later Years Of The First Lady Of Billiards

Masako Katsura became one of the faces of the well-known game of pool after shattering the gender barrier in the sport. She made television appearances on network programmes in 1958. In international competitions, she kept placing in the top few.

But in 1961, Katsura called it quits following a challenging defeat against the reigning world champion.

Cochran, Katsura’s longtime trainer, acknowledged her abilities. “Masako has given women new opportunities. She has for the first time made the game appealing to female players. But she possesses a man’s strength.

In 1976, the First Lady of Billiards made her final appearance. She showed up in a pool hall in San Francisco, grabbed up a cue, and started a 100-point run. She then dropped the cue and vanished once more.

The game of pool has transformed by the 1970s. A group of players established the Women’s Professional Billiard Association during that decade. Katsura was admitted into their Hall of Fame. Masako Katsura, the former champion, returned to Japan and passed away in 1995.


Masako Katsura – a professional billiards player who has been nick named the ‘First Lady of Billiards’. Katsura began playing pool at the age of 14, and quickly developed a reputation as a skilled player. She went on to win numerous championships, including the World Pool Championship in 1990.
In recent years, Katsura has become something of an enigma; she rarely gives interviews and little is known about her personal life. Despite this, she remains one of the most popular players in the sport and continues to be revered by fans all over the world.


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