Masako Katsura (1913–1995) was a real exceptional woman. She was one of the best carom billiards player in the 1950s. Katsura blazed a trail for women in the sport by competing and placing among the best in the male-dominated world of professional billiards.
Her father died when she was 12 years old and she went to live with her older sister and her sister’s husband, Tomio Kobashi, who owned a billiard parlor.
By 13 she was spending time in her brother-in-law’s billiard room, and by 14 she was working as a billiard attendant there. First learned the game from her brother-in-law and then she trained under the tutelage of Japanese champion Kinrey Matsuyama.
“I practice before parlor opens every day for two hours. Every day I practice, Soon I play with many men. Men want to beat me. I play men, six, seven hours a day. Men no like, they do not beat me. If I hit no good, my brother-in-law, after billiard parlor closed, say this shot no good. This shot bad, I make good. He tells me. Not so many good woman players in Japan. I have a sister. Very good. Same stroke.”
Katsura became Japan’s only female professional player. In competition in Japan, she took second place in the country’s national three-cushion billiards championship three times.
After marrying a U.S. Army officer in 1950, Katsura emigrated with him to the United States in 1951. There, she was invited to play. Katsura was the first woman ever to be included in any world billiards tournament. Her fame cemented, Katsura went on an exhibition tour of the United States with eight-time world champion Welker Cochran, and later with 51-time world champion Willie Hoppe.
The great player Welker Cochran said “She’s the marvelous thing I ever saw… She’s liable to beat anybody, even Willie Hoppe… I could not see any weak spots” As a warm-up for the competition, Katsura gave a number of billiard exhibitions during February 1952.
Katsura returned to competition in 1961, playing a challenge match for the World Three-Cushion title against Worst, then reigning world champion, and was defeated by him. Katsura disappeared from the sport thereafter, only making a brief impromptu appearance in 1976. She moved back to Japan in about 1990 and died in 1995.
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