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Tanaka has held a longstanding obsession with reggae music. In his teens, he was in a reggae band.
In 1980, after graduating from university with a degree in electronic engineering, Tanaka successfully applied for a job at Nintendo as a sound designer. At the advice of EarthBound co-worker Tsunekazu Ishihara, Tanaka would join Creatures as a guest composer, where he would end up composing multiple songs for the first Japanese Pokémon anime. Despite the fact that his themes were not used in the West, they inspired best-selling singles and albums in Japan due to their popularity there. Tanaka was eventually forbidden by Nintendo to continue to write more songs for the anime due to their policy of not allowing employees to work for other companies, so he resigned at Nintendo and joined Creatures full-time in 1999. In 2001, Tanaka succeeded Ishihara to become the president of Creatures, where he still works as of today.