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はじめて(hajimete) is the te-form of the verb はじめる(hajimeru) - to begin. How come it means "for the first time" and is used appropriately to mean the whole phrase? Is it an idiom?

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There are two kanji with the same kun-reading "haji-". The kanji for hajimete meaning "for the first time" is , which means initial, first, or beginning but does not mean to begin. Don't mix it with , which means to begin.

And yes, some te-forms have lexicalized and idiomatic meanings, and I think 初めて is one of them. You can see similar examples in this question: What is the role of あるいて?

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