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Nov 15, 2020
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Just asking because I never asked before.

But no unicorns(kato, shigs) and no western custom makers please.
- Sakai Kikumori SK: Just good, resilient, work-oriented knives that get stuff done.

- Tsunehisa: Good, consistent, volume-production knives with a broad variety of shapes, steels and finishes. Maybe something considered a bit above entry level.

- Akifusa: Quality, consistent, volume production knives. Might not have a sexy pedigree but they are very well done.

- Watanabe Pro line: I hate the origin murkiness that these knives have but they are excellent performers.

- Munetoshi: Have to admit that I'm loving my new 210. A bit of heft but still an excellent slicer. A little F&F sacrifice (nothing not easily remedied) but vey well executed function-forward offering.
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I like to look at it the other way around... what makers I'd never recommend. J-knives it'd be a rather short list: avoid Global or Shun, take Miyabi with the appropriated grain of salt but they're interesting at least, and without trying I'd put Mac along with Miyabi, in a much more sober way. Then what.... if one's willing to improve them, most of them are rather pretty darn good for the money. Just beware of low-tier factory as a whole but they're still apt to do more to impress a newcomer than their western counterpart for a similar price. Otherwise, not getting too much caught into the high end is also I believe a good caution. North of 400$ USD, at least consider the alternative of a custom maker.

Otherwise I'll agree with most KKF choices, they're hard to avoid, and even harder to call them anything short of pretty ****ing good. There's a reason why they're favorites.

K. Tanaka (Matsubara) is so rarely mentionned, or always a latecomer, amongst the much more obvious Tanakas, is all I can really add to this. If not that if I'd have to go really dirt cheap again, I'd buy another Kaji-Bei. I recognize that guy needs to expand a bit on shapes and lenghts, however, if to become a point of interest.

If I just answer the question top of my head, it'd be S. Tanaka and Wakui. They're not the ultimate of anything, just the very best values for different reasons to me, and I'd readily build a complete set of knives just choosing amongst these two and have everything someone needs not just to work, but to shine and have fun. Obviously, with hundred of choices at hand, it's easy to start including... well as I said, just about half of them at least?
Watoyama, Yoshikane, Myojin. My one TF didn't blow me away but obviously they have their fans. Wakui, S. Tanaka, Ashi, and Mazaki I wouldn't put on quite the same level but nevertheless very good.
Yea the Kyohei Shindo had an impressive grind. Fit and finish was poor, but the grind and the steel were very good.
I got mine rounded in both choil and spine by Jon, one of the advantage of buying from JKI. The handle is not fancy but really nice in hand, too.
I think the answer would depend on who's doing the answering and who's doing the asking. My favorite Japanese knives would be totally inappropriate for me to give a good friend's kids who are getting married next weekend. Shun or Global would be totally appropriate. And they would be objectively better than the Dalstrong set they registered. The irony is that I've been asked to write an article on pretty much that question.
In my years here there are a few that make appearances consistently:
-Sakai Lasers (Tadatsuna, Ashi/Gesshin Ginga, Konosuke, etc)
-Masamoto KS
-Yoshikane (though a lot of makers have spawned from them)
-Shigeki Tanaka
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I feel like you could TLDR this with Sanjo, Myojin, Ashi, Y Tanaka. Kato and Shig ofc.
For the stuff that's popular elsewhere but not here: most Takefu knives (Kurosaki, Anryu, Shibata), TF, and Takeda.