Tamai Kisaku originally studied medicine at Tokyo University, but abandoned his studies to become a professor of German at the Sapporo Agricultural School. He was highly gifted student with outstanding knowledge of German.
Tamai resigned the post of professor three years later to take up agriculture. In 1891, he was in Berlin working on the staff of a daily newspaper as an expert on Japan. Upon his return he did much to develop trade between Japan and Germany.
In 1892 Tamai went on a journey through Siberia to Berlin. On the way he worked for six months in a Russian department store in Vladivostok and three months in Irkutsk. In Irkutsk Tamai joined a tea caravan, which he accompanied to Tomsk. He described the journey in his book "Caravan trip in Siberia", which was first published in the Cologne newspaper in December 1898 as a travelogue. This work, originally written in German and Russian, was translated into Japanese only in 1963 and published by the publisher Chikuma Shōbō. He also published from Tokyo a German language magazine called "East Asia".
In 1884, Tamai married the Japanese Harada Etsu, with whom he had three children. However, in 1892, he left his wife and children alone in Japan to embark on an adventurous journey from Shimonoseki via Korea, Vladivostok, Irkutsk and Tomsk through Siberia to Berlin.