No offense taken, on the contrary, a good question.
I ended up using just my own knives, most that I ground while practicing making knives. They are not perfect,but they are in good steels: 52100 and PM and with a pretty good heat treatment, and I ground them to my preferences for height, weight and thinness. I own three knives now, 225mm, 240mm and 255mm and I periodically use my wife's 180mm gyuto that I made for her.
Edge retention matters to me, so If I were to look for a knife from a Japanese maker, I would look for knives from the likes of Yoshikane. His A2 core knives offer a pretty decent edge retention. Heiji is also using A2 (or appears to be using it, without advertizing it), but he is pricier than Yoshikane and his knives are heavier.
If edge retention is not an issue, there are a number of Japanese knives in mid price range that should be pretty good. Gengetsu (the way tk59 reviewed it) and others.
As for lower end knives, I don't know. The thing is, Japanese wholesale prices are much lower than retail, so if you are buying a $100 retail, you can imagine what a wholesale price is, and that is really a value of a knife. It is hard to expect quality in that price range.
I think you probably will be better off buying MR knife in a good steel with a decent heat treatment and put some money in tuning it up. This would be my (and subjective) preference, so take it for what it is.