Katô Masakiyo was the theatrical stand-in for the historical Katô Kiyomasa (1562-1611), the "demon general" (kishôkan) who commanded the second division in the warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi's first Korean invasion of 1592. Kiyomasa led troops in Korea again in 1597, but was recalled the next year following Hideyoshi's death. Although he next allied himself with Tokugawa Ieyasu — one of Hideyoshi's generals and the eventual founder of the hereditary dynasty of Tokugawa shoguns — he ran afoul of Ieyasu after opposing a plan to murder Hideyoshi's son, Hideyori. Kiyomasa's death in 1611 was suspicious, possibly the result of poisoning on orders from Ieyasu.
Kiyomasa was relentless in his suppression of Christians (their religion had been banned by Hideyoshi in 1587), in part a reflection of Kiyomasa's participation in a militant evangelical Buddhist sect founded by the monk Nichiren (1222-82). As shown in Hokuei's print, Kiyomasa proudly announced himself as a follower of Nichiren's teachings of intolerance — even on the battlefield — by carrying a banner boldly inscribed with the sect's invocation for winning salvation, "Glory to the teachings of the holy law of the lotus flower" (namu myôhô renge-kyô), a reference to the "Lotus Sutra" (Hokke-kyô) as the only acceptable Buddhist doctrine.
Hachijin shugo no Honjô (Eight battle arrays to protect Honjô Castle: 八陣守護城) premiered in 1807 and included eleven acts, dramatizing, among other things, the poisoning of Masakiyo in a banquet scene and his defiant struggle to resist a slow, painful death. The hachijin of the play title refers to eight modes of positioning troops on a battlefield, devised by a Chinese general named Komei.
Masakiyo, in full martial regalia, sits on a camp chair as he leans against a banner inscribed with the namu myôhô renge-kyô invocation of the Nichren sect. Rikan would have performed this role, which he did twice in 1836, in "rough stuff" (aragoto: 荒事) style. The second performance was at the Minamikawa no Shibai in Kyoto, 11/1836.
References: KNP-6, p. 325 and 328; NKE, p. 137