With just a few strokes, Fugai creates a personal image of great strength.
Fugai's style and subject matter were essentially traditional. He concentrated on images of Daruma and of Hotei painted with a few wet, grey strokes accentuated with small black strokes. Anticipating later developments in Zen painting (Zenga), he eliminated all background detail and inscribed his own poems. Fugai was actually something of an outsider. He was only a boy when he joined a Soto Zen temple near his hometown of Hijishio, Kozuke Province (Gunma Prefecture). He then trained further at the Sorinji Temple. Between the ages of about thirty and fifty he led a nomadic existence, traveling from one temple to another for twenty years. In his fifties he abandoned temple life in favor of a much more primitive existance: he spent nearly a decade in small mountain caves near Odawara, emulating Daruma (Bodhidharma), the Indian monk revered as the founder of Zen Buddhism who is said to have meditated in front of a cave wall.
Fugai traded his paintings with local farmers for rice and gave them to the village children; as a result, some works are in poor condition, darkened by smoke from cooking and incense. In 1682 he moved to Manazuru, a seaside village south of Odawara, where he spent the next twenty-two years in relative seclusion in a simple cottage. Few of his paintings are dated, making it difficult to establish a chronology.