Geodetic transients have been observed in various subduction zones. The 2011 Tohoku earthquake occurred in one of the most active subduction zones globally, the Japan Trench subduction zone (JTSZ). However, no geodetic transient (except afterslip and so on) had been reported in the JTSZ before the Tohoku earthquake. Here we show that a large transient event, with duration longer than any reported previously, occurred in the JTSZ preceding the Tohoku earthquake. We calculate tectonic deformations at Global Positioning System stations along the JTSZ by removing the effects of nearby M(w) 6-8 earthquakes. We identify temporal changes in these deformations, deriving 9-year deviation records from regular deformations due to slip deficit at the plate boundary. We perform an inversion of the deviations to obtain the source model of their root event. The relationship between the obtained transient event and Tohoku earthquake is shown through Coulomb stress change and seismic supercycle simulation.