I think it is a great idea to have this here, Jon, perhaps as a sticky.
If it comes to that, I would suggest a few additions in places, especially considering that the target audience is likely to include those with limited knowledge of the distinctions between traditional and western-style japanese knives, and even their names. A few suggestions are indicated below, in italics.
I also added a sentence at the end referring to Adam's Kitchen Knife Terms sticky. A reference to Gator's knife database might be a good idea too.
After reading this forum for a while, i thought i would just type this up as a reference for people looking into japanese knives.
Edited by pedro the lefty on 11-29-09 08:55.09. Reason for edit: No reason given.
Often times, you hear people here talk about right handed versus left handed knives. For traditional japanese knives - deba, yanagiba, and usuba being the most common examples - this is very important. On a right handed knife, the right side of the knife will have the bevel cut on it and the left side will be hollow ground. On a left handed knife, you will find the opposite to be true. It is not possible to change the handedness of one of these types of knives.
However, with western-style japanese knives - gyuto, petty, sujihiki, nakiri, santoku, and western deba being the most common types - this is much less important. We tend to sharpen our knives according to our personal preferences, but at the end of the day, it makes no real difference. Left handed people can use "right handed" western knives (assuming the handle is more-or-less symmetrical) and visa versa. Also, if you want to change from left handed to right handed, the work is pretty easy (whereas it is an impossible task on a traditional japanese knife).
The main point of this is to say, dont get caught up in whether a western-style japanese knife is right or left handed (again, except for the handle). The only real thing that right or left handed will tell us about that knife is what the maker's or present owner's preference is. It does not mean that knife is permanently right or left handed, or that it can not be used by both right or left handed people. On the other hand, if you are looking at a traditional japanese knife, pay very close attention to whether it is a right or left handed knife.
See the "Kitchen Knife Terms" sticky post for more information on various knife types.