The stench of sulfur hits you long before you get off the bus. And when you do step off, it hits you all the stronger. Before you stretch the sickly, yellow-green waters of a caldera lake, whose acidity has expunged all fish life except for one hardy species (ugei or big-scaled redfin). Signs everywhere warn of the danger of poisonous mamushi pit vipers. Even at the height of the Japanese summer, the air is curiously silent, with none of the clamorous abundance of the insect life ubiquitous to Japan. The only sound is that of the raucous, ill-tempered crows that obviously have an affinity for the spot. Death seems to be built into the very fabric of things at Osorezan.

Some places have a peculiar, uneasy air about them. They provoke the sensation that things are not quite right. And that's certainly true of this place. Visitors wanting a taste of a Japan far removed from the genteel, familiar temples and festivals will not be disappointed by Osorezan and its unsettling lunar landscape.

Located at the end of hatchet-shaped Shimokita Peninsula, stretching north toward Hokkaido at the northern tip of Aomori Prefecture, Osorezan is a place that since ancient times has been venerated because of its mystical power. The lake -- Usoriyama -- still bears the Usori name by which the area was known to the Ainu. This was later phonetically altered to provide the Japanese pronunciation and etymology -- Osorezan, the mountain of dread. After Buddhism was introduced to Japan, the religion worked its way north, and when it came to Osorezan, the Buddhist cosmology was projected onto this desolate volcanic landscape of sulfur-stained rock.