First Lady of Billiards: The Incredible Story of Masako Katsura
Billiards and bowling are male-dominated sports in Japan, but there’s Masako Katsura who has risen to the top of the women’s billiards world, leading the way for other female players in Japan. From her early days as an amateur playing against boys and men to her current status as one of the best women’s pool players in Japan, Masako Katsura has been a pioneer in this traditionally male-dominated sport. Here’s her remarkable story, from beginning to end.
Early Life and Beginnings in Billiards
Masako Katsura was born on September 10th, 1948 in Nagoya, Japan. At the age of six, she began playing billiards and when she was 15 years old she won her first championship. By the time she turned 20, Masako had won 25 championships and had become known as the world’s number one-woman player. In 1967, when women were not allowed to compete at the world championship level because they were considered too weak, Masako took men’s clothes to a tournament and competed as a man. She made it to the finals but lost. When she secretly got out that she was a woman playing in men’s clothing, there was an uproar among fellow competitors and spectators.
Rise to Prominence
In the early 1950s, Masako katsura was a young Japanese woman just starting out in life. She had studied English and loved to play billiards. At the age of 18, she took her first trip abroad to Hawaii with some friends. There she discovered the game and fell in love with it. For hours at a time, she would practice and perfect her game. When she returned home to Japan, she found that there were few opportunities for women to play billiards professionally.
But this didn’t stop her from practicing her game and perfecting it even more. A year later, she managed to find work as a translator for an international tournament in Kobe. It was here that her skills shone through as she finished third place in two tournaments the lady’s individual championship and the mixed doubles championship. From then on, Masako Katsura became well-known across Japan as The First Lady of Billiards.
The turning point came when she met Toru Sakabe, who owned one of Tokyo’s leading billiard halls. He offered her space where she could play 24 hours per day something unheard of at the time for any woman – and so began Lady Masako’s legendary career.
She traveled across Asia playing against opponents both male and female.
Masako Katsura was the first woman to set a world record in billiards. She began playing at the age of three when her grandfather taught her how to play. Her family eventually opened up a billiard parlor, but due to World War II, she lost everything and had to start over from scratch when she was just thirteen years old. With determination and hard work, she became the first female player in Japan to break a world record. In 1988, she won the Women’s All-Japan Championships for nine-ball and three-cushion carom. In 1995, she took home the gold medal at the Women’s Asian Games for straight pool.
Later Years and Legacy
In her later years, she taught billiards to youth and was a member of the International Women’s Bowling Congress. She also played a role in the Japanese Olympic Committee and its Women’s Division. It is said that she was one of the first women to play pool in Japan, and her legacy lives on in her family as well as the many people who knew her.
In 1971, she was honored with a Japan Sports Award in recognition of her achievements. Over her long and storied career, she had won over 300 tournaments, both local and international, including winning 88 titles in Japan alone. In 2014, at 91 years old she was inducted into the World Pool Association’s Hall of Fame for her incredible lifetime achievements as a pool player.
Masako Katsura died on January 16th, 2016 at age 96 from pneumonia and was mourned throughout Japan. After her death, a bronze statue in honor of Ms. Katsura was placed by Suwa Shrine in Tokai city where it stands to remind all visitors about how amazing Ms. Katsura was as a billiard player and about how important table sports are for everyone!
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