Aritsugu (有次) is definitely one of the most famous knifemakers in Japan. That is clearly not debatable. Whether or not is he the #1 maker in Japan is of course debated, sometimes pretty intensely. Anyway, for me, most definitely that has no importance. Doesn't matter he is #1 or #10, he's making very good knives and that's all that matters to me. For the record, Aritsugu house, or a knife shop, was established back in 1560. So says their website. Since then, generations of Aritsugu were making famous samurai katanas and other blades. Later, with the demise of Samurais, and prohibition of sword carrying in public, lots of Japanese knife and sword makers started making kitchen cutlery too. Considering that Japanese treat their kitchen knives with much greater respect than westerners, it isn't surprising that top notch makers ventured into kitchen cutlery. As a the personal note - I greatly respect and appreciate the way they treat and use their kitchen cutlery. I'm not big fan of the Japanese field knives, or even swords, but kitchen cutlery from them, is clearly heads and shoulders above most of the western counterparts.
Actually, if you check domaintools.com, Aritsugu is listed there as one of the oldest companies. In Kyoto, Aritsugu shop is listed as one of the main attractions :) You Don't see that too often for any knife maker of factory. As you can see, this maker has a widely recognized name. Interestingly though, Aritsugu makes knives for pretty much any budget. Any budget here, refers to sensible budget for quality Japanese knives, which means 5$ isn't a budget. However, for less than 200$ you can get a very good 240mm(9½") gyuto(Chef's Knife using western terminology) made by Aritsugu. Smaller knives are obviously cheaper - 140mm(5½") petty knife is 98$ at aframestokyo.com.
One other thing, I'd have to mention about Aritsugu knives, is the difficulties of actually getting your hands on one. Not so many dealers here, in US have Aritsugu knives to begin with. Whoever has them, the choice as usual is limited, 10, may be 15 different knives. According to Aritsugu website, they make 104+ types of knives. That's just base types. If you include all possible options and customizations, then the count is in hundreds. Aritsugu himself, has two websites, http://www.aritsugu.com/ and http://www.aritsugu.jp/. Former is for the Kyoto shop and later is that of the Tokyo shop. Most of the time, Kyoto shop is mentioned on forums and in traveler info. I have never been to Japan, no plans to go there anytime soon either. So, can't give any info about Aritsugu stores, but what I can definitely tell you, is that you can save your time and breath writing Aritsugu customer service on either website. I've tried a few times, from custom knife orders to simple inquiries, no use. Nobody ever replied. From what I gather on the net, in their local stores, they treat customers with cash in hand much better, compared to internet would-be customers.
On top of that, both Aritsugu sites are in Japanese. Even with the help of the translator, it's still useless. Thus, unless you can read Japanese, you can skip that as well. To be fair, this isn't a problem specific to Aritsugu. Pretty much all of the Japanese makers sites are in Japanese only. Watanabe being one pleasant exception, along with a few others. Alternatively, get someone who can do it for you. Even better, get a friend in Kyoto, so he or she can do all Aritsugu shopping for you ;) Personally, I have given up on Aritsugu websites and their customer service, no plans for Japan travel either. Don't feel like searching for trusty friend in Kyoto to hand over cash too. If you are like me, then your best bet is trusty local dealer with Japanese contacts. I can definitely recommend Takeshi at aframestokyo.com. He can place your order with Aritsugu and what's more important help you understand options, and answer many other questions. Bear in mind, some of the Japanese makers aren't the most easy going about custom orders. Aritsugu isn't definitely.
General- As a high end Japanese knife should, Aritsugu knives come nicely packed in a box. This A-Type gyuto was no exception. Initial inspection didn't reveal any flaws or defects in the knife. Blade and handle were both, well made and perfectly fitted together. Blade has a pretty nice satin finish. The back side was slightly rougher than the front side. One thing that jumps at you immediately - the size of this knife. It's really big. Even compared to other 270mm gyutos, it is big. Mainly, thanks to its long handle. Overall, this is not a knife you would use in a cramped kitchen. At least not when it's crowded. The A-Type gyuto is surprisingly light for its size. In the beginning, I had an impression that Aritsugu preferred thicker knives, but A-Type gyuto is quite thin, slightly less than 3mm thick spine, at the blade/handle juncture.
Another, rather unpleasant surprise, if you didn't know about it upfront, is that Aritsugu knives, unless special ordered, come pretty much dull. I already knew about that, based on my first experience with Aritsugu Honkasumi yanagiba. That practice of not putting the edge bevels on the knife is also nothing Aritsugu specific. Many Japanese makers do that, and there is a special term for putting initial edge on the knife like that - Honba-Tsuke. Apparently the reason is that, if you are buying that kind of knife, you know what you are doing, and you, or your favorite sharpening guy, will put the best edge that suits you and your use. This makes perfect sense, and with many other knives, I just with the manufacturers didn't put the thick initial edge on the knife at all. However, due to the extremely high wear resistance and edge holding ability of Aritsugu knives, grinding the desired edge is a bigger problem than you might think, prepare to whip out your best sharpening stones and do the hard work. Details below. Also, for the record, you can absolutely request from Aritsugu to put an initial edge of certain angle. That is, if you manage to place such an order with him. Not all dealers can, or will do that for you. As far as I know, Takeshi can make that happen, obviously that doesn't apply to the knives that he already has in stock. having initial bevel cut for you, will reduce the amount of your work dramatically.