Earlier today I received a nice email from Mike “In Toyko” Rogers regarding my post Do Gift Cards Make Any Sense? Is it Time to Ban Christmas Presents Altogether?

Mike writes …

Hi Mish,

In Japan, even though Christmas gift giving is not customary, we do have a custom called “O-Kaeshi” (Honorable Return).

What “O-Kaeshi” means is that when you receive a gift, then you are obligated to give one back. The Japanese take it to extremes as when a gift is given then another is returned and then another given back for the one that was given back and the cycle continues.

I have put my foot down and told my wife and our friends to “Stop!”

It’s really absurd when a Japanese visits a foreign country and then feels obligated to buy some souvenir junk for the folks back at home (I mean, how many Hawaii refrigerator magnets – that are made in China – do we really need?)

When I tell the Japanese that we are to “stop it” (and I can because I have an executive position at work) they seem to always be relieved. Cultural and social pressures are not to be under-estimated.

Anyway thinking that you have to buy presents for the aunt you don’t like or cologne for the uncle you don’t even really know not only a waste of money, but philosophically inane.

It’s Better to buy gold or silver for the immediate family for yourself.

Thanksgiving is a better holiday than Christmas away because, at least, there’s no “socially required” gift giving.


More on Gift Cards

Reader “EM” writes …

Hello Mish,

The one circumstance under which gift cards make sense for both buyer and seller is if the card is offered at a discount to face value.

For example, I have long been using my local coffee ship’s gift card in lieu of cash there because I can buy a $100 card for $86. When it runs low, I just add another $100, again at a cost discount of 14%. The store owner gets more of my business than otherwise because I spend more when I feel I’m getting good value, and I enjoy the discount and the convenience of not having to worry about having cash in pocket.

Aside from this usage, though, gift cards are a complete racket.


Mike and EM are both correct.

That said, I will point out there is nothing wrong with gift giving as long four conditions hold.

  1. Exchanging gifts is genuinely mutual as opposed to a social necessity or obligation
  2. The act of exchanging is not an emotional chore
  3. No one is financially burdened
  4. The gifts are appreciated and generally usable

I wonder what percentage one or more of the above is violated.  I also wonder when it will be commonplace to discount gift cards.

Although I seldom see gift card discounting now, I suspect it will not be long before the practice is rampant. Once one major store offers discounts, the others will all follow.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock