I find myself disappointed that the New York Times has decided to spoil a cherished Alaskan myth:
It was so much fun to tell people!
“I’ve heard lots of stories,” said Kristin Fischer, a guide at the Alaska Public Lands Visitor Center, in Fairbanks. “One explanation says they want to conceive under the northern lights, so they’re more likely to have a boy. Another version was for a gifted child. There’s also supposed to be a belief the child will be well off.”
She added: “I’ve also heard it’s a complete hoax.”
Debbie Eberhardt, the proprietor of A Taste of Alaska Lodge, a few miles north of town, called the rumors about Japanese fertility beliefs “a crock” and said, “The Japanese come to Fairbanks in the winter because they love the extreme cold, not to make babies.Dr. Syun-Ichi Akasofu, the recently retired director of the International Arctic Research Center of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, which operates a Web site predicting nightly auroral activity (www.gedds.alaska.edu/auroraforecast), calls the procreation story a “joke.”
“It was started by ‘Northern Exposure,’ ” he said.
The 1992 episode in question of “Northern Exposure,” a popular TV series of the era, was written by Jeff Vlaming, a screenwriter now living in Pasadena, Calif. Reached by phone, Mr. Vlaming said he didn’t invent the baby-making rumor.
“I picked up a copy of Alaska magazine, and there was this quarter-page article in there about some ancient belief that was held by the Japanese that if you conceived a child under the northern lights, it would be a gifted child,” he said, referring to an article in the November 1991 issue of the magazine. “I thought, ‘This is great — exactly the colorful type of thing I’m looking for.’ So I put it in the script, and ‘Northern Exposure’ bought it. It was one of their best episodes ever, I think.”
It's very interesting that a made-up story becomes self-perpetuating.