A Japanese immigrant, Masa moved to Asheville, North Carolina in 1915 where he worked as a lowly laundry room attendant at a local inn. His good work and pleasant personality vaulted him into a new role as valet and photographer for the same inn. Masa excelled with his camera, first taking images on behalf of the hotel and its wealthy guests. He quickly became a guest favorite where his clients included notables from the Vanderbilt family.
Eventually, his photography skills grew to a point where he was able to open his own studio, and after doing so he set out to create scenic photos of the nearby mountainous terrain he found so intriguing. He was one of the first, and most influential to photograph places like Cades Cove, Clingmans Dome, and the Newfound Gap. All well-known locations for photographers of today.
Soon after the opening of his photography studio, Masa met Horace Kephart, a Bryson City journalist who wrote for newspapers and magazines promoting the natural virtues of the Smokies. Masa and Kephart became close friends and worked together over the years to spread the message of the benefits of the conservation and preservation of the area. More specifically, Kephart’s words combined with Masa’s inspirational imagery, were used in concert to convince the public and lawmakers that the area should be set aside as a National Park. An idea that had been simmering since the late 1890’s.