Publisher and book dealer Charles E. Tuttle (1915–1993) founded the company in 1948 in Tokyo, Japan, with the aim of publishing "books to span the East and West." It was the 31st corporation approved by the occupying Allied administration. In its first year of operation, the company imported and distributed US paperback publications to the occupying forces, and the next year, it released its first publication. From 1951, it published many books on the Japanese language, arts, and culture, as well as translations of Japanese works into the English language.
In 1953, part of the company was separated to form a new, partially owned company, Yohan, which took on responsibility for distributing US paperback books and magazines. The Charles E. Tuttle Company retained responsibility for distributing UK publications. In 1991, under chief executive Peter Ackroyd, a planned acquisition of the Atlantic Monthly Press failed to eventuate. According to executives, "Tuttle, which specializes in Japanese and other Asian books, came to feel that it was putting its existing business at risk by acquiring Atlantic." In 1996, the company changed its name to Tuttle Publishing.
Since its founding, Tuttle has published more than 6,000 books and today maintains an active backlist of around 2,000 titles. The company now produces 150 new titles each year, most of which still focus on the areas of Asian interest that Tuttle has long been known for—everything from Asian literature and language learning to cooking, art, crafts, and design.
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