The Longest Marriage Proposal?

As the summer of 2008 approached, then-30-year-old Japanese artist Yasushi Takahashi, known as “Yassan” in the art community, decided it was time to propose to his girlfriend, Natsuki. And from there, he did a bunch of things that most people planning for a long-term relationship would never do. First, on June 30fh of that year, he quit his job. Then, on July 22nd — his 31st birthday — he walked out of his house, leaving his girlfriend behind. And then, he didn’t come back for the rest of the year. Instead, he embarked on a 4,451-mile tour of Japan; he wanted to see more of his country in person than he had previously.

His girlfriend was confused — as she said in an interview with Google, “I kept thinking, where are you going without me?”

And then, when he returned home, on January 2, 2009, he proposed to Natsuki, sharing a video of his journey with her. It wasn’t just a set of vacation pictures. Here’s a screenshot of the important part of the video.

That’s a map of Japan, and on it are the words “Marry Me” with an arrow through a heart in the top-left. It wasn’t made in Photoshop — it was made using GPS tracking. Yassan’s nearly six-month trip was the set up for the proposal.

Yassan is something called a “GPS Artist.” As Google described, GPS art is “the act of creating a large-scale digital drawing by traveling with a GPS device along a predetermined route. When the route is uploaded to a mapping tool like Google Earth, a form takes shape.” Basically, you go for a very long walk or drive, track yourself along the way, and then use that path to draw a picture — or in the case of Yassan’s 2008 trek, a message.

The trip was also the first time that Yassan left Toyko for an extended period of time — beyond being his way of proposing, this was an opportunity for him to see parts of his country that he had only read about previously. He rented a car to get from one destination to another (and so he had a place to sleep during his adventure, but according to Interesting Engineering, “Takahashi mostly walked” to get his data — that’s why it took months.

The trip was well received. In 2010, Guinness World Records honored Yassan by recognizing his feat as the largest GPS drawing by an individual. In 2014, a sportswear company named Hi-Tec created a short film (called a “Walkumentary”) about Yassan’s trip, which you can view here. And in 2019, Google profiled Yassan and his efforts. But most importantly was his girlfriend Natsuki’s reaction.

She said yes.

Bonus fact: In February 2017, actor Bill Paxton passed away. One of his more notable roles was in the 1996 movie Twister in which, as Variety summarizes, “he and Helen Hunt lead a team of lovable scientists on a dangerous mission to gather more information about the deadly cyclones.” In honor of Paxton and in celebration of the film, storm chasers — that is, “a person who follows extreme weather events such as violent storms in order to experience, photograph, or study them,” according to the Cambridge dictionary — broke out the GPS trackers they used for following extreme weather, and created a bit of GPS art. As seen on the above-linked Variety story, hundreds of them spelled out the letters “BP” — Paxton’s initials — across Kansas, Oklahoma, and into Texas.

From the Archives: The Problem with Chinese GPS: GPS doesn’t work the same way everywhere. here’s why.