Yes, a yanagi is a specialty knife made to aide in making sushi. This is the case with almost all the Japanese standard professional knives....deba, yanagi, usuba being the top three. There are reportedly hundreds of these specialty knives with variations based on their geographic use.
If you're looking for more of a western style blade, then I would hunt for a gyuto which is basically a chef's knife.
If you're looking for the top Japanese knife makers, that might be kind of difficult.
Most all Japanese knives are made by individual knife makers. There is a forger, a final grind/sharpening guy, and a handle maker. They typically don't work in the same factory. They typically rarely work continuously for the same company. Konosuke will ask a group of these to make this knife for them, Sakai Takayuki will ask them to make a different knife....so on and so forth.
It's a very interesting way of doing things....and I'm completely fascinated with it.
So, you could have the same exact knife made by the same exact group of three people who all work in the same general area but not in the same factory with a Konosuke label and with a Sakai Takayuki (or any number of other company names). You'd never know though.
The same is true, to some extent, about factory made knives. The Kikuichi TKC knives are a good example....Kikuichi picked up the line because Ichimonji, the original company that sold them, wouldn't export them. So Mark asked Kikuichi to pick up the line. The TKC knives are made in a factory somewhere and that factory puts Kikuichi on some and Ichimonji on some others.
It's a huge web.
OMG I'm writing a book. :@
Some of the more respected knife houses in Japan:
Hattori (himself, but I don't think he's making knives any more)
Shigefusa (this is a case where they are actually all made in house)
That's quick off the top of my head.
You want to really blow a knife nuts mind, buy something from this page:http://www.nenohi.co.jp/tokutyu.html
If you want to be a little more pedestrian, this is by no means a slouch of a knife:http://www.chefknivestogo.com/mahowa24.html