Yumiko Tanaka was born in Kitakyushu, Fukuoka Prefecture.|
While a student majoring in musicology at Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music, Tanaka was attracted to the timbre of the gidayu-shamisen (also known as the futozao, or thick-necked, shamisen), which accompanies gidayu-bushi in Bunraku, traditional Japanese puppet theater. In 1979 she began studying gidayu recitation with female gidayu recitation artist Komanosuke Takemoto (a Living National Treasure), and the following year became a Bunraku disciple of the late gidayu-shamisen master Kinshi Nozawa (who was also a Living National Treasure). She has been performing traditional gidayu music under the name Yumi Tsuruzawa.
Since her debut, Tanaka has been very active as a shamisen and vocal musician, not only in the world of traditional Japanese music, but also in contemporary music, free jazz, new music, dance, theater, etc. Tanaka has a Master's degree in musicology from Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music. In 1991 she was awarded the Minister of Education's Art Encouragement Prize for Newcomers for the year 1990. In 1999 she received the Committee's Special Prize at the 68th Japan Music Competition. She is an associate professor at Hyogo University of Teacher Education, lecturing on Japanese music history and teaching shamisen and koto to both undergraduate and graduate students.