We show the first real-time record of a turbidity current associated with a great earthquake, the Mw 9.0, 2011 Tohoku-Oki event offshore Japan. Turbidity current deposits (turbidites) have been used to estimate earthquake recurrence intervals from geologic records. Until now, however, there has been no direct evidence for large-scale earthquakes in subduction plate margins. After the 2011 Tohoku-Oki earthquake and tsunami, an anomalous event on the seafloor consistent with a turbidity current was recorded by ocean-bottom pressure recorders and seismometers deployed off Sendai, Japan. Freshly emplaced turbidites were collected from a wide area of seafloor off the Tohoku coastal region. We analyzed these measurements and sedimentary records to determine conditions of the modern tsunamigenic turbidity current. We anticipate our discovery to be a starting point for more detailed characterization of modern tsunamigenic turbidites, and for the identification of tsunamigenic turbidites in geologic records.

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