Tanaka, the son of a professional baseball player, was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1943. He spent his youth in a prefecture near Nagano and, like his father, grew into a skilled athlete. He attended the Chiba University of Commerce on a baseball scholarship, graduating in 1964. Shortly thereafter, he visited the United States for the first time.
It was on a visit to the Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco’s Japantown in 1967 that Tanaka discovered his calling. He was surprised to learn that there was no taiko drumming at the festival in San Francisco or for that matter, anywhere else during his travels within the United States. "In Japan, taiko drumming is played at practically every occasion—especially special ones like festivals or ceremonies" he said. Tanaka immediately concluded that he wanted to introduce this powerful musical art form to the United States, and he dreamed that the word "taiko" ,"karate" and "sushi" would one day become an integral part of the American vocabulary.
So thereafter, Tanaka returned to Japan and sought out taiko visionary Grandmaster Daihachi Oguchi of Osuwa Daiko to teach him the art, traditions, and philosophies of taiko.
In 1968, Tanaka returned to make his debut performance as the sole taiko drummer at the annual San Francisco Cherry Blossom Festival. That same year, he established San Francisco Taiko Dojo, the first such school in the United States. Known as Sensei to his students, Tanaka is often heard saying that the essence of taiko is not only the skillful playing of percussion instruments, but also the discipline of mind and body in the spirit of complete respect and unity among the drummers. To Tanaka, taiko drumming can be expressed in one word, "We listen to it before we are born, it is instinctive."