Masakiyo (正清) was based on the historical Katô Kiyomasa (1562-1611; 加藤清正), a samurai who served the warrior general and politician Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536/37-1598). The son of a blacksmith, and later a notorious persecutor of Christians, Kiyomasa became legendary for his ferocity in battle, gaining respect and power from his mid-twenties on, until he commanded part of the Toyotomi forces in the Korean campaigns of 1592 and 1597. He was recalled the next year following Hideyoshi's death. Although he next allied himself with Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) — 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 (1593-c.1615). Kiyomasa's death in 1611 was suspicious, possibly the result of poisoning on orders from Ieyasu.
In kabuki, the Kiyomasa/Masakiyo tale takes an ominous turn when circumstances force Kiyomasa to meet with Kitabatake (a theatrical stand-in for Tokugawa Ieyasu, whose portrayal in theater or literature was banned by the shogunate). Kitabatake gives Masakiyo a poisoned cup of saké, which he drinks, knowing it will be fatal. He nevertheless manages to stay alive for months to protect his lord until he finally succumbs to the deadly brew.
In Yoshikazu's splendid design Masakiyo and his retainers journey on the general's flagship. His name cartouche, the only one colored in red, reads Masakiyo Chôshin (the courtier Masakiyo), whereas the names of his sixteen retainers are inscribed in yellow cartouches. Masakiyo is positioned at the far left of the middle sheet, adorned in full military regalia and holding a large black fan with a white cresent moon.
The unfurled banner at the far top right signifies that Masakiyo proudly allies himself with a militant evangelical Buddhist sect founded by the monk Nichiren (1222-82). The banner is inscribed with the sect's invocation for winning salvation, namu myôhô renge-kyô ("Glory to the teachings of the holy law of the lotus flower"), a reference to the Hokke-kyô ("Lotus Sutra") as the only acceptable Buddhist doctrine.
References: Another impression is in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Accession no. 11.37681a-c)