Humans of EALC

Humans of EALC is a photoblog of portraits and interviews collected from students, faculty, and staff on the UC Davis campus.



Michael Dylan Foster

  • Where are you from?
    • I was born in New York, and grew up there and in other states along the East Coast. But I have also lived in Indiana, Pennsylvania, Scotland, Japan, and of course California.
  • Why did you choose Davis?
    • I chose Davis in part because I wanted to be in California, where I have always felt very much at home. Also, of course, Davis has a long and excellent history of teaching Japanese literature and culture, and I was excited about the chance to work with a diverse group of students.
  • What are your research interests?
    • Although I have training in Japanese literary studies, my primary area of research is Japanese folklore—which I see as a diverse discipline that combines aspects of literary studies, history, anthropology, religious studies, cultural studies and media studies. Within the broad field of folkloristics, my research has particularly focused on monsters and fantastic beings, often called “yôkai” in Japanese, and I have written two books on this subject. But I am also very interested in rituals, festivals, and tourism, and have spent a lot of time doing fieldwork on these subjects. I try to go to Japan to do this research every summer and winter break.
  • Why did you choose to pursue said academic interest?
    • My first experience with Japan was on the JET Program--many years ago! I didn’t speak any Japanese when I first arrived in Japan (Kitakyushu City), but I immersed myself in the language. People sometimes say that Japan is a homogenous country, but I found it to be incredibly diverse. I was especially intrigued by the distinctions between different regions of the country. It was exciting to talk with people about their everyday lives, their jobs, their beliefs and customs, local foods and drinks, festivals and other annual events, and even about slang and regional dialects. I also loved hearing people tell stories, particularly local legends. So after almost four years working in Japan, I went to UC Berkeley for an MA in Asian Studies, and it was there that I realized that so much of what I was interested in could be studied within the field of folkloristics. I did not originally want to be a professor, but I just kept pursuing my interest in folklore, and eventually went to Stanford for a Ph.D. in Japanese, spent time researching in Japan, taught comparative literature at UC Riverside and then folklore at Indiana University. And now I am here at Davis enjoying working with students and continuing to explore (and expand) my interests.