Some of the more interesting spots in Japan are the ones that are not really on the way to anywhere else at all. A sense of remoteness and being firmly off the beaten track lends them a particularly beguiling character.

In the northeastern neck of the country on the decidedly less traveled Sea of Japan side, Yamagata Prefecture is one of those places that you generally have to go well out of your way to reach. And that sense of intimate seclusion adds to the appeal of Mount Haguro.

This 414-meter protrusion is one of the three peaks that constitute the Dewa Sanzan, meaning the "three mountains of Dewa" — the former name for Yamagata Prefecture — and the links among the trio are more spiritual than physical. Each of the mountains hosts a Shinto place of worship, and the long trail connecting the three shrines has been dutifully plodded by pilgrims since ancient times.