Let's start with sharpening:
At the end of the day you're going to need at least three Japanese synthetic water stones for your (new) good knives. A typical three stone set would look like this:
- Medium/coarse (800 - 1200JIS ), to draw the initial burr;
- Medium/fine or fine (3K - 6K), to refine the edge; and
- Coarse (150 - 800), to thin, do other profiling, and grind out minor nicks.
I put them in that order, coarse last, because you shouldn't use a coarse stone until you can hold a very good angle as well have a good understanding of the general sharpening process. Coarse stones have consequences.
Be aware that you'll need to flatten and bevel any water stone before using it for the first time, so you'll need some method of flattening. Diamond plates work best and CKtG sells a cheap one which is very good for flattening for a very reasonable price. Otherwise, diamond plates tend to be expensive. I like drywall screen as the ultra cheap option.
If you're just learning to freehand, I think it's a good idea to get the two finer stones at the same time for two reasons. First, learning the fine stone will help a great deal with the learning process. Second, the finer edge you'll get from a fine stone is a lot closer to the edge you want than the toothy edge you'll get from a medium/coarse.
The Bester 1200 is a very good stone, but not perfect. It needs at least 30 minutes of soaking before use, an hour is better, and a couple of hours is better still. The stone is hard enough to limit feedback. On the other hand, it's fast, polishes out deep scratches, and leaves a finish that's easily reached by fairly fine stones. At the time I bought mine, it was the best value in easily available medium/coarse stones and something of an obvious choice. I'm not sure if that's so true now as I don't have the same opportunities to compare a broad variety of stones which I had then.
At around the same price, I also like the Naniwa SS 1K. If money were no object, I'd choose the Gesshin 2K and Chosera 1K over the Bester.
And on to Knives:
The more you can do to limit the universe of knives to a general type the easier it will be to help you.
The easiest thing to decide is whether or not you can live with carbon. Because there are so many good stainless and semi-stainless options now, you only get a few bonus points for answering "yes."
The handle question is an obvious one. There aren't a ton of great wa-gyuto for under $200, which isn't a bad thing because it does some winnowing.
I recently added a Richmond Ultimatum to my block. It's robust enough to remind me that answering whether you want something stout enough to be "all purpose" or whether you'd prefer something lighter but which would also mean keeping a heavy knife around for heavy duty tasks might be even more basic than alloy or handle type. If you've never had a very light knife, you might want to try that. On the other hand, if you break a lot of chickens, cut a lot of thick-skinned squash and melon, something heavier and stiffer might be just right.
You're drawing too much conclusion from the way CKtG worded its website. There's no real difference between "Sakai Takayuki" and "Takayuki" brands -- which, by the way aren't actually brands at least not in the way Americans think of brands. Both names refer to the same hamono. I'm not sure if the two knives you're asking about are made by the same OEM maker(s) or not.
The wa-handled knife with the plain looking blade is a stainless, very light (laser) knife; and very good -- especially for the money. The blade (which is made from Uddeholm's AEB-L alloy) takes a GREAT edge and takes it easily, but its edge holding properties are a little bit mixed. It's a bit soft and rolls out of true pretty quickly, on the other hand it's one of the few ultra-thin and utlra-light knives which can be easily steeled, and is fairly chip resistant. The apples to apples competitors to the Grand Chef are the Gesshin Ginga stainless, Konosuke HH, and Sakai Yusuke stainless. All of them are better hardened, and all more expensive. The Richmond Laser probably belongs in that category but I don't have enough information to venture an opinion.
If you don't mind adding a tiny bit of extra weight and go for a light, but not ultra-light, stainless, wa-gyuto you might want to think about the Gesshin Uraku (which I haven't actually tried but is supposedly very good), and the Richmond Addict 2, which is pretty damn good.
The Sakai Takayuki yo-handled, tsuchime patterened, cladded VG-10 knife is typical of the breed -- neither much better nor much worse than a great many of its type. BDL is not impressed.
And neither is McKayla.