Born in 1928 in Sapporo, on the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Youngest son of Massami Tanaka and Ai Iwane, both descendants of samurais.
Emigrates in 1932 with his family to Brazil, growing up in Tomé-Açu, in the lush and challenging environment of the Amazon forest. In search of better living conditions and education, the family leaves for São Paulo in 1939.
First painting in 1942, while studying at a technical arts and crafts school. Starts working at 15, decorating ceramics, then at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer painting posters for movie theatres. Is introduced to the Grupo Santa Helena, a group of working-class modern painters, and joins the São Paulo Artist's Union. Moves to Rio de Janeiro, working in a framing studio. Participates in group shows, winning recognition and several awards. Signs his paintings Shiro Tanaka or F. S. Tanaka.
First solo exhibition in 1950 in Rio de Janeiro. Shows paintings at the first São Paulo biennial. Becomes Brazilian citizen. Arrives in Paris in 1953, studies mosaic with Severini, engraving techniques, and lithography at the Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts; copies old masters at the Louvre. Solo exhibitions and group shows in Paris, Europe and Brazil. Marries (Béatrice) and has two children (Josué and Noémi). Returns to Brazil in 1959, living in Salvador, Bahia.
Back in Paris, starts signing Flavio-Shiró. Prize for painting at the second Paris Biennale. Solo exhibitions and group-shows, among them the Guggenheim International show in 1960, in Europe, Latin America and the USA, with paintings suggesting mythical monsters and machines. Extensive travels in Europe, the Middle East, the Americas and Asia. Photographs May 1968 events in Paris.
Drawing reappears in large paintings, in mixed media and charcoal, alluding to imaginary faces, followed by the reinvention of the body. Exhibitions in France, Brazil, the United States, Spain, Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom.
Buys and renovates a house in Rio de Janeiro and starts dividing the year between Paris and Rio de Janeiro. Panorama da Arte Brasileira prize, and Itamaraty Award at the 1989 São Paulo biennial. Exhibitions, often with Latin-American artists, in Brazil, France, Cuba, Japan, Italy. Meets Matta who mentions that: What is obvious does not attract me. Your paintings, inhabited by strange and undefined creatures, attract me. Paintings so full of poetry are rare nowadays.
Wins the Eco-Art prize at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the International Japan-Brazil Exhibition Award. Major retrospectives covering fifty years of painting at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, at the Museum of Modern Art in Rio de Janeiro and at the Art Museum of São Paulo (MASP). Solo exhibition at the new Contemporary Art Museum of Niteroi. Shows monotypes at the Daumier, Chagall, Derain, Miro, Flavio-Shiró, engraving show, in Rio de Janeiro.
Major retrospectives with the show Flavio-Shiró, painter of three worlds : a trajectory of 65 years, at the Tomie Ohtake Institute in São Paulo ; the Casa das Onze Janelas in Belem, and the Centro Cultural Correios in Rio de Janeiro. Keeps on painting, reaching soon 70 years of creation.