Skip to main content

Life Stories

Winning Based on a Great Dream

Mission—Mitzi Gunter in Orlando, Fla., September 2021.
Mission—Mitzi Gunter in Orlando, Fla., September 2021. Photo by Ann Spark.

by Mitzi Gunter
Orlando, Fla.

Really, I knew nothing about America. I had seen the Hollywood movie Giant with James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor. But, for me, 18 in boring, postwar Nagasaki, Japan, that was enough. When I got word, in 1958, that I could chant Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for anything, I chanted for America. Within two years, my prayer was answered: I married an American Navy sailor and was on my way to hosting big parties in a beautiful home in big beautiful America!

I am laughing now, but oh! How naïve I was!

We moved in with my husband’s parents in rural Louisiana and were very poor together.

Most days I was left alone with the mother. I didn’t understand what she said and didn’t have to. One day my husband came home while she was screaming at me and couldn’t believe his ears. Although his car was falling apart, we packed it up and hit the road. I held our newborn baby in my left hand and a rope tied around the exhaust pipe in my right.

Now how I pined for Nagasaki! How longingly I chanted to get out of America! The universe lent an ear in 1961, and we were transferred to Hawaii. Not Japan, but halfway there! I patted myself on the back.

My practice took off in Hawaii, where I hit the streets with the few members there, sharing Buddhism by day and attending Soka Gakkai meetings at night. But things were bad at home. My husband had begun to shout, then throw things at me while I chanted. One day, he came home and pointed to the Gohonzon.

“Choose me or THAT!”

“I choose the Gohonzon!” He packed up and left. I kept chanting, and around midnight he came home.

“I give up! You practice! You win!” He began driving me to meetings—a huge victory for me!

Ikeda Sensei had given three points to the Japanese pioneer women on his first visit to America: 1) gain citizenship; 2) learn to speak English; and 3) get a drivers’ license.

My husband laughed long and hard when I told him I would be getting my license. Frankly, it sounded hopeless to me, too. But I was no longer the same girl who’d left Nagasaki out of boredom—I was fighting for an America of happy people, and it made me fearless.

While I studied for the license, I went door to door, passing out the Soka Gakkai’s English-language newspaper, Seikyo News.

Good newspaper! Make you happy!”

That’s all I knew how to say! But as I read the paper myself, my English improved. When I got my license, my husband flinched, amazed.

“You’re leaving me,” he said, “aren’t you?”

Less and less dependent, he mistook each step I took for kosen-rufu as a step away from him. I assured him I had no plans of leaving, and soon he realized that I was fighting for something bigger than myself. He became a member in 1965.

In ’69, we transferred to Orlando and opened our home for meetings. There was no district in Orlando, but my friend and I vowed there would be soon. We will reply to Sensei! We will raise capable youth in America! Sure enough, precious youth, mostly hippies, started joining our meetings. So many hippies that twice the cops came thinking we were throwing a pot party. No, sirs! Just donuts!

There is nothing like the joy of raising capable youth. I was on top of the world! On top of Mount Fuji on a clear blue day.

So, it came as a total shock when my husband asked for a divorce in 1977. I really thought he was joking. Again, I felt crushed. But now my first thought was of the American youth. I must show them that you can turn all poison into medicine!

I had never worked before in my life, but I had to now. I’m a social person who loves speaking with people. Maybe I could be a barber? Growing up with six brothers, I’m most at ease with men. A barber, then! Within three years, I had opened the doors to my very own shop. I was a hit!

My customers were lawyers, bank presidents, professors, students. I held my own with all of them; I had been studying the Seikyo News and now the World Tribune.

What kind of college did I go to? they asked me. Why, the SGI! I shared the publications and set them out for reading. Such lively conversations we had!

I could do anything! This is what I realized. Each day I chant thank you for my ex-husband, thank you for the Gohonzon, thank you for Sensei for making me strong. For 35 years, I worked this barbershop and made many wonderful friends.

Then, seven years ago, I was diagnosed with colon cancer. I was quiet, and my doctor thought I hadn’t heard. What I was thinking was Yes! Another challenge! I will fight back! I was in such high spirits, even my kids doubted the diagnosis. Chanting, I thought, Cancer, either you win, or I win, but if I die, you die too! I knew I still had a mission and was not shaken at all.

Now, look at that—I’ve beaten that cancer!

If you practice correctly; if you stick with the SGI; if you stick with the mentor, you will create the America of your dreams. I can say so, because I did it!

What advice would you give to the youth?

Mitzi Gunter: Youth! Don’t complain! Don’t be stingy in faith! Whatever it is—propagation campaign, daimoku campaign, study campaign—enjoy it! Yes! attitude. Happy-to-do-it! attitude. This is how to double your benefit. And please, never give up!

Read more