First Lady of Billiards: Masako Katsura’s Extraordinary Life and Career

To many, the sport of billiards has little to no recognition in America or Europe; however, in Japan, the sport has been an institution in culture and society for decades, and the sport’s most influential role model has been the remarkable Masako Katsura. Born and raised in Osaka, Katsura was introduced to the sport of billiards at age 8 by her father.

Early life


Born in Japan, Masako Katsura was raised as a star athlete. She was home-schooled for most of her childhood and excelled. At every sport she tried—eventually going on to win multiple national championships. In a number of sports. At age 16, Katsura made history by becoming the youngest female to ever participate in a Japanese Olympic event. However, when she arrived at that championship, she discovered that women were forbidden from participating. In protest, she withdrew from competition and began working towards becoming a leader for women’s rights in Japan. Ultimately, her work would be so impactful that she would later be recognized as one of Time Magazine’s. Top 100 Most Influential People in The World.

World billiards champion


Born in Japan on September 17, 1936, Masako Katsura started playing billiards at a young age. She dominated women’s amateur pool from 1958 to 1963, winning over 100 titles throughout her career. In 1963 she became an official member of Japan’s national team. In 1969 she won first place in women’s world doubles with teammate Junko Sugawa. Then repeated her win in 1970 with a different partner. During that year’s championship tournament. She set a world record by earning 434 points out of 500 possible—the highest score. Ever recorded during a major international competition.

Popular in Japan, little known overseas


Here in America, we know little about billiards. The pastime is popular in Japan, but even more so is its greatest player ever, Masako Katsura. Born on July 22, 1953 in Kyoto Japan. She became intrigued with billiards at a young age while watching her father play. At 14 years old she was already playing professionally and eventually turned pro at just 17 years old. Just two years later she won over 150 local tournaments earning approximately $100,000 U.S dollars (1972). Then considered an unheard of amount for a female athlete.

Married to Katsumi Kimura


In August 1933, at age 42, Masako Katsura died suddenly of acute intestinal obstruction. According to her husband Rokusaburo. Her symptoms had begun with a cold that she developed while on a trip to Shanghai. And condition worsened upon their return to Japan, after which she sought medical treatment at Ashiya Hospital. Her illness was already in an advanced stage by then and she never recovered.

Died young at age 42


The daughter of a physician, Masako Katsura was born in Osaka on March 3, 1925. Her family encouraged her to pursue a career as a doctor. However, at an early age she discovered her interest in billiards. She began playing when she was five years old and competed in her first tournament by age ten. During World War II. Competitions were banned so she focused on perfecting her technique while working part-time in a pool. Hall where she practiced on an old table with only one cue stick.

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