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Just to be sure, I'm not talking about the verbs 始める/始まる but the nouns(maybe adverb?) 始め 初め and 始まり.

  • I agree that a clarification of 初め and 始め might be helpful, but I think 始まり is pretty clearly different from them. – Kurausukun Apr 11 '18 at 22:14
  • I feel that this question can be easily answered with a simple google search using keywords "始め" "初め" and "difference". I won't downvote but it would be nice to see that you made a genuine effort and looked at the noun form definitions. – Halfway Dillitante Apr 12 '18 at 6:54
  • 1
    Sorry but I searched and I didn't find an explanation in english ( I'm not fulfilled with these answers: italki.com/question/281331 hinative.com/en-US/questions/84927 italki.com/question/254404?hl=ja ) and I looked the definitions in japanese but I'm not able to understand the difference from them ( the difference is also talked in japanese websites but it's also way above my level of comprehension) – Jirei Apr 12 '18 at 7:42
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+350

始【はじ】め and 初【はじ】め

These are both the stem or noun forms (technically, the 連用形【れんようけい】) of verb はじめる ("to begin something, to start something", transitive / 他動詞【たどうし】).

In terms of usage, the kanji 初 is never used to spell the transitive verb -- a related clue. 初め is used to mean "the beginning or start of something", a sense that is broadly interchangeable with the 始め spelling, when talking about the "start" in terms of time. When talking about "start" in terms of a process, or work, or something that someone starts, use the 始め spelling.

(That said, Googling for actual usage, the above appears to be more of a broad guideline than a rule set in stone.)

始【はじ】まり

This is the noun form (technically, the 連用形【れんようけい】) of verb はじまる ("to begin, to start", intransitive / 自動詞【じどうし】).

This is also used to mean "the beginning or start of something", but more specifically in reference to something that is starting on its own, and not something that someone starts intentionally.

始【はじ】まり can be used with nouns that require humans to do them, like in 仕事【しごと】の始【はじ】まり. In these cases, the use of 始【はじ】まり instead of 始【はじ】め puts the focus on the work, rather than the people doing the work. It's a bit like a passive construction in English, which puts the focus on the patient (the thing to which the action of the verb happens) rather than the agent (the thing doing the action of the verb).

Usage patterns

Looking at my copy of Shogakukan's 類語辞典【るいごじてん】 (Thesaurus), I see the following useful table for words related to ideas of "the beginning or origin of something":

    類語対比表【るいごたいひひょう】 
     国【くに】の~     文明【ぶんめい】の~     日本人【にほんじん】の~     諸悪【しょあく】の~
   (the country)  (civilization)  (Japanese people) (one's troubles)
始【はじ】まり   ○        ○        -         △
始【はじ】め    ○        △        -         -
起源【きげん】    ○        ○        ○         -
根源【こんげん】    -        ○        △         ○
源【みなもと】    -        ○        -         ○
源流【げんりゅう】    -        ○        -         -

The circle indicates appropriate usage, the triangle indicates borderline usage (depends on context), and the dash indicates inappropriate usage.

From what I've understood, the difference between 国の[始]{●}[ま]{●}[り]{●} vs. 国の[始]{●}[め]{●} is a difference in emphasis: 始まり focuses on the start of the nation, as something that begins on its own; meanwhile, 始め focuses on the start of the nation, as something that people are doing.

Difficulties

The 初め・始め distinction is a subtle one that even Japanese speakers have questions about. This web page discusses the differences. Their main point:

  • 「初(はじ)め」は、ある期間の早い段階、ものごとの最初という意味をあらわします。
  • 「始(はじ)め」は、ある時点から新たな行動をしたり、ものごとが起こったりすることを意味します。「創(はじ)め」と書くこともあります。

基本的な意味として、「初め」は”最初”、「始め」は”開始”という意味であると考えるとよいでしょう。


  • 初め expresses a meaning of the early stage of a period of time, the beginning of things.
  • 始め means engaging in some new behavior, or things happening, from a particular point in time.

In terms of the basic meanings, it's probably good to think of 初め as meaning "the first", and 始め as meaning "the start".

  • why or how did 初 come to be used to convey this meaning of "beginning" in some instances such as はじめ, replacing 始? Please check the full question here. – jarmanso7 Oct 25 at 19:18
  • @jarmanso7, please see my answer there. :) – Eiríkr Útlendi Oct 25 at 22:02

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