Netsuke auctions are booming - but what are they?

These are exciting times for netsuke auctions.

And Western buyers are believed to be behind the surge.

So says a leading expert.

Yet, if you're not certain you would know a netsuke if you met one in the street, don't worry. You're not alone.

Netsuke are small carved ornaments first produced in Japan in the 17th century. They were traditionally used to attach purses to kimonos, but are now in demand for their artistry as opposed to their function.

And prices are soaring.

The world record for a netsuke was broken three times at Bonhams' Asian art auction in November.

Netsuke Bonhams
This shishi broke the world record for a netsuke in November

The new £265,250 world record was set for an 18th century ivory specimen known as a "shishi" or lion-dog.

It sold alongside a world record-setting inro (nested boxes), which achieved £265,250.

"There has always been an attraction with netsuke in the West," the head of Bonhams' Japanese department, Suzannah Yip, told the Japan Times.

"This is because they are always small, well-carved, portable and very tactile."

Netsuke expert Edmund de Waal agrees.

"The thing about netsuke is their immediacy, they are genuinely funny and beautiful, which means they can be universally popular," he told the publication.

With such buoyancy in the market, art collectors may well be inclined to consider fine netsuke for their collections.

Asian art will again be to the fore on January 12, when 888 Auctions in Ontario, Canada presents its Chinese Paintings and Asian Works of Art sale.

Paul Fraser Collectibles will bring you further netsuke news throughout the year, so make sure you check back here regularly.

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