Japanese culture was influenced in many ways by the cultures of other countries. Over the years, though, it developed into a distinctive entity that had a considerable influence on others as well. The tea ceremony involves preparing powdered tea for guests according to custom and enjoying its austere taste quietly and serenely. Influenced by Zen Buddhism, the tea ceremony seeks to purify the mind and attain oneness with nature. The ceremonial serving of tea used to be exclusively practiced by nobles and priests who gave it its original form around the middle of the fourteenth century. The tea ceremony has been modified in many ways over the years. Until the end of the Edo period (1603-1868) it was practiced almost entirely by men; women joined in only after the beginning of the Meiji period (1868-1912). The Japanese believed that all natural phenomena, animals, and plants possessed kami, or divine power. This belief came to be known as Shinto and was established as an official religion after Buddhism and Confucianism were introduced to Japan from the Asian continent. Buddhism came to Japan from the mainland Asia in the sixth century.
Japanese people may prefer not to interact with a stranger, to avoid potential errors in etiquette. The business cards or calling cards so frequently exchanged in Japan are valuable tools of social interaction because they provide enough information about another person to facilitate normal social exchange. The Japanese language is one means of expressing status differences, and it contributes to the assumption that hierarchy is natural. Verb endings regularly express relationships of superiority or inferiority. Japanese has a rich vocabulary of honorific and humble terms that indicate a person's status or may be manipulated to express what the speaker desires the relationship to be. Men and women employ somewhat different speech patterns, with women making greater use of polite forms.