First blade that was a leap fr. what I had been using(mostly Forchners)was Masamoto carbon steel 240 Gyuto.
well, it always depends on what one considers as "high performance"...
i started with a Wuesthof Dreizack Classic 4582 chef's knife and thought it was great for years...
then my cousin gave me a Yaxell Ran Santoku. although i never really liked the knife as a whole i like its blade.
then it was a Hattori FH/KF gyuto. it's a reliable and great performer with the best handle i've ever had.
then it was a Konosuke HD gyuto. this is serious sh*t! sharpness out of the box is terrifying!
and then i had the chance to grab myself a Hattori KD gyuto. i love it in every regard, and this is what i consider not only sharp but this is pure beauty.
My first chef used a Nenox SD 270 and taught me about Japanese knives. I bought a Takeda 282 gyuto as my first Japanese blade... it blew me away.
My first was a dojo, I couldn't believe how thin and sharp it was. My second was an aritsugo 240 yanagiba a friend brought back for me from Kyoto. This was the knife that got me hooked-I was overwhelmed with it and frankly scared to use it since I knew I didn't have the skill to sharpen it. That's when I started trolling the web and luckily found Dave martells site.
First stones were shapton glass 1k 4k 8k.
I think my first "high performance" knife was my Tanaka 240 in blue #2 Damascus. A 150 Petty soon followed and I just received a Carter Sujihiki that is amazing. I made a great score of a 240 Takagi Honyaki gyuto today for $150. I'm looking forward to putting that one to work.
My first Japanese knife was a Hiromoto AS. I still wish I had that knife--looked cool as hell.
Once I started getting interested, I escaleted pretty quickly. After using random stamped or german styled knives for years, I ended up geeting a much larger (10.5 inch) powdered steel Tojiro. Soon after, got a Devin Thomas ITK....and been playing around since then. It is still my favorite. Should probably get a custom from him eventually.....which means I should probably sign up now :-)
Like to try all the makers, and will probably work my way through them all eventually.