Grammar Info
N3 Lesson 5: 18/21

~て初(はじ)めて
for the first time, not until, only after, only when, only because

Structure
Verb[て]+ はじめて
Details
Register Standard
使用域 一般
Information
て初(はじ)めて is an expression in Japanese that highlights one verb as being the catalyst for some particular result/state. Verb て初(はじ)めて literally means ‘with (A) done, for the first time (B)’. Often, this translates similarly to ‘only after I (A) did I (B)’, or ‘not until (A) did I (B)’.
  • 先生(せんせい)になって初(はじ)めて、先生(せんせい)大変(たいへん)さ分(わ)かった。
    I didn't understand how hard it is to be a teacher, until I became one.
  • 好(す)きなバンドコンサートに行(い)って初(はじ)めて、歌手(かしゅ)人(ひと)男(おとこ)人(ひと)だ気(き)づいた。
    I didn't notice that the singer of the band was a man, until I went to the concert.
In this structure, it should be noted that the (A) verb is not necessarily being done for the first time ever, just that this time resulted in the speaker’s first experience of (B).
  • 駅(えき)ある時間(じかん)表(ひょう)見(み)て初(はじ)めて、土日(どにち)は電車(でんしゃ)来(こ)ないこと知(し)った。
    I didn't know that trains don't come during the weekends, until I saw the train schedule.
Caution
Originally, 始(はじ)めて ‘commencing with’ and 初(はじ)めて ‘starting with’ were both used with this expression. However, this is considered incorrect in modern Japanese, as only 初(はじ)めて strictly carries the meaning of ‘for the first time’.
  • カレンダー見(み)て始(はじ)めて今日(きょう)は休日(きゅうじつ)だってこと知(し)った。
    Commencing with checking the calendar, I noticed that today is a holiday.
  • カレンダー見(み)て初(はじ)めて今日(きょう)休日(きゅうじつ)だってこと知(し)った。
    Only after checking the calendar did I notice that it is a holiday today.
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日本(にほん)に来(き)てはじめて日本(にほん)文化(ぶんか)興味(きょうみ)を持(も)った。
I didn’t have any interest in Japanese culture until I came to Japan.
興味を持つ means "to have interest in" Notice that in Japanese 興味を持つ part is not in negative form!
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京都(きょうと)を訪(おとず)れてはじめて歴史(れきし)古(ふる)い町(まち)と分(わ)かった。
I didn’t understand why Kyoto was known as a historical and ancient town until I visited there.
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日本語(にほんご)勉強(べんきょう)てはじめて他(ほか)国(くに)の言語(げんご)で話(はな)す面白(おもしろ)さを知(し)った。
I didn’t know how fun it was to speak in other languages until I started studying Japanese.
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Books
[AIAIJ] An Integrated Approach to Intermediate Japanese
Page 18