As is the case with any people, geography influences contemporary Japanese, and Japan's physical geography has helped shape culture, the economy, politics, and religions. Geography, while offering some impressive advantages for Japan's inhabitants, has also often been an obstacle rather than an asset in the Japanese quest for economic development, safety, and security. Beginning with prehistoric times, some Japanese always had varying levels of contact with other Asian peoples. Intermittent contact even occurred with South, Southeast, and Southwest Asians, and by the middle of the 16th century, Europeans reached Japan. Still, the historical remoteness of the Japanese islands from the rest of the world and even from the Asian mainland helped shape Japanese culture in ways that are still influential today.