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The life of Masako Katsura, the first female Japanese player

Charming billiards as a child

In 1952, billiards king Willie Hoppe, facing an unprecedented opponent, the female mechanic Masako Katsura. When he won the first of his 51 world championships, Katsura wasn’t even born.

However, she quickly made a name for herself in the village Japanese billiards and became the focus of the sports world, bringing decades of experience in the billiards halls in Tokyo to the world stage, becoming the first woman to compete in international billiards tournaments.

Born in Tokyo in 1913, Katsura grew up under the supervision of her mother, especially after the death of her father. It was also her mother who introduced her to billiards. “My physical condition is weak, I feel tired all the time,” said Katsura, “So my mother wanted me to play billiards to exercise and make me stronger.”

In the 1920s, billiards parlors were very popular in Tokyo. Katsura’s brother-in-law also owns a shop and teaches Katsura to familiarize himself with the sport. At the age of 13, she spent her free time at the pool table and by the age of 14, started working as a waitress. She was diligent, practiced every day, and soon had a knack for poisonous lines.

At the age of 15, Katsura won the Japanese women’s freestyle billiards championship. Her skills have attracted the attention of the defending Japanese champion, Kinrey Matsuyama. He trained and coached her in three-band billiards, which was complex and required a high degree of precision, and skilled players could score double digits in one turn. Before long, Katsura had reached a high level, with smooth muscle lines, defeating many famous players.

Fame in America

The life of Masako Katsura, the first female Japanese player - Photo 1.

Charming billiards when he was a kid.

World War II brought Katsura’s billiards career to a halt. During the war years, she used to perform skimpy muscle lines, entertaining the Japanese army. After the war, she continued to demonstrate this talent in US military service clubs.

Those performances helped launch Katsura’s international billiards career. An American soldier wrote home to his father, billiards champion Welker Cochran, about Masako Katsura. He declared: “This girl plays better than dad!”. At this time, Katsura won the national women’s billiards championship and began to compete in the men’s championship.

Katsura’s turning point came when she met Vernon Greenleaf, a sergeant in the US Army, at a club where she performed nightly billiards. She begins to teach Vernon beginner lessons about billiards, and instead of being enamored with the sport, he is enamored with her. On November 30, 1950, they got married.

In 1951, Katsura moved with her husband to California, and she saw a very different world from Tokyo. In Japan’s capital, women, after finishing work, come to play in hundreds of billiards shops. But America’s billiards rooms are male territory.

Katsura admits: “I’ve only met a female billiard player while here. Billiards is considered a place for men.”

However, Masako Katsura hit the American billiards scene in the 1950s and immediately made his mark. Champion Welker Cochran becomes Katsura’s manager.

Cochran told the newspapers: “This sport needs a female athlete with enough skill to compete with the best male athlete. And I believe, it has finally come.”

The Japanese female fighter quickly became the main topic of the American media. But the press is often more concerned with her gender than her skills.

However, many billiards players have a special respect for Katsura. Willie Hoppe stated: “In the East, they told me she was very good, but I didn’t expect to see such a great female player. She can beat any player.” Dubbed the “First Lady of billiards”, but Katsura said, she just wants people to call her simply Katsy.

The 1952 competition between Hoppe, the 51-time world champion, and Katsura, a petite Japanese woman, made the press go viral. Although Hoppe couldn’t dethrone Hoppe as world champion, Katsura became the first woman to compete at an international billiards tournament.

After breaking down the gender barrier in billiards, Masako Katsura became one of the faces of the sport, ranking near the top in international tournaments.

Katsura’s longtime coach Cochran praised her skills: “Masako has opened up a new field for women. Her presence has made the sport so appealing to women. She has the strength of a man.”

However, in 1961, Katsura retired after losing to the defending world champion. The “First Lady of Billiards” last appeared in 1976, at a billiards parlor in San Francisco. She went in to get a cue and went for 100 points, then disappeared.

By the 1970s, billiards had changed. A group of players formed the Women’s Professional Billiards Association. They inducted Katsura into their Hall of Fame. As for the former champion, Katsura moved back to live quietly in Japan and died in 1995 at the age of 82.

On March 7, 1921, with an animation on the Doodle homepage, Google honored Masako Katsura as a world-class billiards player who paved the way for women to participate in the sport.

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