The city's 53 dried bonito manufacturers produce about 12,000 tons of the product a year, about 40 percent of the national total and the highest in Japan.
According to Kyo Nishimura, 59, the head of Makurazaki Marine Products Processing Industries Cooperative, there are many kinds of dried bonito, each with its own distinctive taste.
"The highest quality is honkarebushi [fermented dried bonito]. It has the appropriate amount of fat and brings an elegant flavor to soup stock," Nishimura said.
At Maruni Foods, K.K., one of the city's dried food makers, bonito are unloaded at Makurazaki Port. Many had been caught on the high seas and frozen on fishing boats.
Bonito for honkarebushi usually weigh five kilograms to nine kilograms (about 15 pounds). First, the fish is filleted, and then the belly and back are separated and boiled on wire racks in a large pot for about two hours.
"We calculate how long the fish is boiled and the strength of the fire based on its size and fat content," said Yasutaka Todoko, 73, president of Maruni Foods.
Once the racks are lifted from the pot, employees remove the bones and mold the fish into smooth shape. The boiled bonito are then smoked for about 20 days, with workers rotating the fish to ensure each side is smoked evenly.
Afterward, the blackened parts are removed and the surface is coated with mold before the fish is left to dry in the sun. The mold helps remove moisture from the bonito and condense its umami flavor. The same process is repeated at least twice before the fish is ready for sale.
"It takes more than six months to make a high-quality product," Todoko said.
The final product weighs about one-sixth of the original fish, and is a brilliant ruby red color when cut in two.
Locals often enjoy dried bonito as chabushi, a portmanteau of cha (Japanese tea) and bushi (katsu o bushi).
To try it yourself, make flakes using a bonito shaver and put them into a cup. Add a teaspoon of mugimiso (barley miso) and hot water or bancha coarse green tea. The soup is even more delicious if you add black sugar or chopped green onions.
After drinking the soup, I could feel the umami flavor of the dried bonito gradually take effect, raising my spirits.
Todoko referred to the soup as a "Satsu ma energy drink," using the old name for the area around current-day Kagoshima Prefecture.
Of all the dried bonito produced in Makurazaki, honkarebushi accounts for only 2 percent. About 60 percent is made into arabushi, which skips the use of mold in the production process.
In Makurazaki, shin-satsumabushi, a sort of arabushi that is sun-dried for a shorter period of time, is popular.
Comparing chabushi made with these different types, honkarebushi has a clear taste that lingers, while shin-satsuma bushi has a strong flavor of fish. The latter would pair well with Japanese pickles or rice.
Dried bonito combines wisdom and technique in preserving the fish's umami flavor. However, the soaring cost of the fish poses a tough challenge for the industry.