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September 6, 2023

The Amazing Story of Masako Katsura, the “First Lady of Billiards” and the National Heroine of Japan

Masako Katsura was born on March 7, 1913 in Tokyo. Little is known about Katsura’s childhood in Japan. Katsura had three sisters and a brother. In 1925, while still a 12-year-old girl, Masako Katsura lost her parents. She had to move in with her older sister and her husband, who owned a small billiard room. This sport was just gaining popularity in Japan, but it was played exclusively by men. The girl showed interest in the game, constantly running up to the table and trying to make combinations with balls, spied on by the players.

The owner let the girl help him. She began to get balls from the holes for the players, place them on the table, polish and give out cues. The permanent owners got used to the lively little girl, and some allowed her to hit the balls with a cue, which she was incredibly happy about. She wanted to stand at the table on a par with the rest of the players, it was her cherished dream.

It soon became clear that Masako was seriously interested in billiards. The sister bought a small play table for her so that the girl could exercise. At the age of 15, the girl decided to take part in the championship. She fought professional players in her age category and won. There was no doubt that Masako Katsura began to play billiards seriously, although this occupation was unacceptable for a Japanese girl and was condemned by society. She had to endure a lot of criticism, but Masako showed character and continued to study. Moreover, she involved her younger sisters in the game, who later also won more than once competitions at various levels.

In 1937, the meeting between Masako Katsura and Kinri Matsuyama, a multiple world champion in billiards, became fateful. He appreciated the girl’s talent and began to train her. Later, he repeatedly admitted that he was amazed at the girl’s abilities, never before had he seen such gifted female billiards players.

In the future, Masako twice took second place at the national billiards championship in Japan. It was rumored that she was not given victory just because she was a woman. After getting married and emigrating to the United States in 1951, Masako’s career took off. At the 1952 World Championships, she finished fourth, which was a real breakthrough. Before that, women had never participated in championships of this level.

Masako Katsura was an amazing woman, intelligent and talented, with her own inner core and not afraid of judgment. Although she never rose above fourth place in world tournaments, her contribution to the development of women’s billiards cannot be overestimated. It was Masako who became the one who taught the world to the idea of women’s participation in professional billiards. Many reigning champions admitted that Masako’s appearance bribed them and was misleading. She was fragile, small, like a porcelain doll in high heels, but she had an unrivaled ability to play. Very soon they began to call her the “First Lady of Billiards.” People came to the game only to admire Katsura. In 1990, Masako returned from the United States to her homeland and became a national hero of Japan.

The athlete died in 1995, but her memory is still alive today. In Japan, billiard schools have been opened, which have long accepted not only boys, but also girls, which was impossible 50 years ago. She broke the gender barrier and remained the “progenitor” of women’s billiards not only in Japan, but throughout the world.


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