There is a song called “Toshi Tastu Kesa no” (New Year’s Morning) (#1). It is a song celebrating the New Year holidays as you understand from the title. Click the score, and you can hear the music.
It was first published in 1883 in a music book for elementary school. The text was made by a Japanese poet, but the melody was adopted from a song called “Freut euch des Lebens” which was composed by H. G. Nägeli, a Swiss composer. I imagine an elementary school of that time. Both teachers and students must have been astonished at six beats. As for Japanese traditional music, two beats are most often, three beats can be found a little, but six beats are not known almost at all. I doubt whether they were able to sing this song.
However, after several decades, Japanese composers began to compose with this rhythm. “Biwako Shûyû no Uta” (Around the Lake Biwa) (#2) was composed in 1915. It was a song for the Rowing Club of Kyoto University, but later it came to be enjoyed by all the university students around the country. A favorite song with six beats appeared at first among the intellectual people.
Next year, in 1916, “Hamabe no Uta” (A Song on the Shore) (#3) was composed. The composer, Tamezo Narita, was a 22-year-old student of Tokyo Music College. This might be the first artistic piece written in six beats in Japan. Children, who learned the song of Nägeli at elementary school, were grown up enough not only to enjoy music in six beats, but also to compose with them.
“Gondola no Uta” (Barcarole) (#4) is a popular song composed by Shinpei Nakayama in 1924. That means six beats finally appeared in the world of popular music. As well as the intellectual people, commoners also enjoyed this exotic rhythm.
The Japanese government of the latter half of 1800’s was very eager in adopting Western culture. By westernizing, the government tried to keep independence as an equal country with the Western Great Powers. Music education also was the part of westernizing. Only songs in western style they taught. As a sequence, traditional Japanese music has been almost totally forgotten. Actually, I do not know traditional music almost at all. All the music was westernized. However, the Japanese feel something exotic in those six-beats music still now.