• The Associated Press

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Japan is already wild for Apple Inc.’s latest iPhone.

Preorders began Tuesday at 5 p.m., and the early rush for the iPhone 4 led to long lines around Tokyo and overwhelmed computer servers struggling to keep up with demand.

Customers were instructed to submit reservations online with Softbank Mobile Corp., the iPhone’s exclusive domestic carrier, or at any of its retail outlets. The country’s seven Apple Stores were also taking preorders ahead of the June 24 launch.

Japan — along with the U.S., U.K., France and Germany — will be among the first countries where the iPhone 4 will go on sale. The latest model will feature a higher-resolution screen, longer battery life and thinner design.

At Softbank’s flagship store in Tokyo’s trendy Harajuku district, the line drew several hundred people who waited hours to place their reservations.

Steve Nagata, a Japan-based tech consultant and Apple enthusiast, said Tuesday evening he had been standing in line for more than two hours and expected to be there another hour. He spent part of his time broadcasting the lively scene on the Web site Ustream.

“This is just showing how out of control this is getting,” said Nagata, who owns both an iPhone 3G and 3GS. “It’s just going to be a huge launch.”

At the Apple Store in the upscale Ginza district, about 200 people were waiting in line shortly before dark. A similarly long line formed at a nearby outlet of major electronics chain Bic Camera, which quickly ran out of preorders allotted for Tuesday. Instead, it began distributing tickets for the next day’s reservation line.

Meanwhile, repeated attempts to access Softbank’s online store were unsuccessful.

Softbank spokesman Furuya Katsuhide said the better than expected demand overwhelmed the company’s systems, which slowed both its Web site and the reservation process at stores.

The Tokyo-based company doesn’t release numbers, but Katsuhide said Softbank was thrilled with the “tremendous response.”

When the iPhone was first released in Japan in 2008, skeptics questioned whether the country’s mobile masses would embrace a device that lacked many high-tech features common on Japanese cell phones.

But the iPhone has been a hit for Softbank, helping the nation’s No. 3 mobile carrier lure customers from rivals and spurring broader interest in smart phones.

Under the threat of rain, Megumi Kawanishi stood outside Bic Camera for more than an hour to grab a spot in Wednesday’s preorder line.

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