Very few dealers retail lasers. I don't know one way or the other whether the trend is away from lasers, but suspect that there haven't been enough laser sales at any time to constitute a trend of a size that would make a dent in ordinary, Japanese made knife sales. To the extent that there was a trend at all, it was probably mostly a product of the knife forums. Those of us who spend in the forums tend to forget the limits of their reach.
I've used a few laser gyuto including the Tadatsuna Inox, Suisun Inox Honyaki, Gesshin Ginga (Inox), Konosuke Shirogami #2, and currently own a Konosuke HD 270mm gyuto and 300mm Konosuke HD suji (which I use as a gyuto). I've also owned and used a great many typically thin (by Japanese standards) chef's knives.
Sharpening a Laser:
Dave could very well be right about lasers being difficult for beginning sharpeners, but I'm not sure what he's getting at. In my experience lasers aren't more difficult to sharpen than other knives. True, it's been about forty years between learning to sharpen competently and buying my first laser, so maybe I'm missing something.
Using a Laser:
I got the idea that lasers needed better skills than ordinarily thin knives from a friend of mine who broke in a lot of new cooks on the line, but it turned out that he and I were wrong -- at least as they related to home cooks. As long as you don't force the knife to bend by torquing it, or getting it out of square in the cut, your fine; and those problems seem to occur under the sort of time pressure you get on the line, but not at home.
So if someone doesn't mind working a little bit to improve his or her skills -- especially grip and keeping the knife square -- and doesn't work in such a hurry as to force the knife, an ultra-thin knife isn't a problem. That doesn't mean you need one or that you should want one. Some people like stiffer knives. Personally, I like 'em all, and my latest purchase is a "mighty" wa-gyuto -- a Richmond carbon Ultimatum -- more or less the opposite of a laser. Because why not?
Hard and Soft Steels:
The Rockwell Hardness scales measure indentation hardness, and not impact hardness. Furthermore, unless the alloy is made too hard, hardness doesn't have much to do with how it will sharpen. Strength does. Because strong alloys harden better and stronger than tough alloys, hardness can be considered a metaphor for strength, but they're not the same things. File this under "Things Knife Retailers Never Tell You."
Alloys which resist bending are called strong. Since given enough force everything's got to give, that also means that strong alloys tear and break more easily than they bend. On the other hand, tough alloys bend more easily than the break. Strong alloys actually sharpen a little easier than tough alloys because sharpening is abrasion, and abrasion means tearing off little pieces of alloy. Tough alloys "steel" (i.e. can be trued on a rod hone) better than strong steels. But while tough alloys suffer less from wear than strong alloys, they ding out of true more easily.
That makes for a nice sort of maintenance relationship. Strong alloys need more sharpening and sharpen more easily, while tough alloys need more steeling and steel better.
Most -- but not all -- of the best alloys are not only "balanced" in terms of those qualities, but are also score on the high side for each. A few good alloys aren't balanced but are strong OR tough. One thing ALL good knives have in common is that their blade alloys are appropriately hardened.
Sharpening san-mai knives (three layer laminates with soft outsides surrounding a strong/hard core) is no more difficult than sharpening knives made from a single layer of steel -- as long as you use appropriate stones.
The Dreaded List of Knives:
I don't know enough about the Kanehiro or Masakage to comment, other than to say that they're the kind of knives I don't like and would never buy. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't, just that I'm not the right guy to ask.
I love the MAC Pro for a lot of reasons, but it's no longer the deal it used to be. I think if you're seriously considering it, you should also consider the Masamoto VG, which shares a lot of qualities. The MAC's stiffer, the Masamoto has a better profile, the MAC has better manufacturer support and a great guarantee, the Masamoto is a Masamoto, and just about everything else is a push.
One of the first things you need to figure out -- and no one can really help you on this -- is whether you want a "yo" or "wa" handle.
The Konosukes are seriously good knives, and contenders for best knife at any price if you like lasers. In a similar price range at a similar level of quality you might also consider a Gesshin Ginga.
The Gesshin Uraku is a relatively affordable single steel, stainless wa-gyuto with a lot of good buzz. I understand the Richmond Addict is very nice, and I'll have something to say about the (mighty) Richmond Ultimatum in a week or so.
I spent a little time on the phone with Mark Richmond the other day and we were talking about a reasonably priced, good to go, soup to nuts sharpening kit aimed at beginners who have nothing, but want to start with good equipment. He's got it online as the Eight Piece Set, around $190.
Just some thoughts,