The latest iPhone models hit store shelves Friday in Japan, drawing hordes of fans to retailers nationwide, while mobile giant NTT DoCoMo Inc. started selling the iconic handsets for the first time.

Since Apple Inc. unveiled two new handsets, the iPhone 5S and 5C, earlier this month, attention has centered on how big a splash DoCoMo would make at the iPhone party.

The nation’s largest carrier has been desperate to strengthen its edge over its two biggest competitors, KDDI Corp. and Softbank Corp., both of which have boosted subscriber numbers in recent years by marketing the iPhone.

For many of DoCoMo users, the iPhone debut was apparently much anticipated, with more than 300 people lining up in front of its flagship store in Tokyo’s Marunouchi district.

“I’ve been with DoCoMo for a long time, so I feel attached to the firm,” said Kiyotaka Tanaka, 23, from Ibaraki Prefecture, as he waited for the store to open.

Tanaka, who joined the line around 4 a.m. Friday and planned to buy a silver iPhone 5S, the high-end model that comes with a 4-inch display and cutting-edge 64-bit processor. The polycarbonate-coated iPhone 5C is aimed at the lower end of the market but is available in a wider variety of colors.

DoCoMo, which boasts the largest share of the domestic market, at around 60 million subscribers, had tried to keep pace with its iPhone-totting rivals without offering the handsets itself. But it couldn’t stop bleeding customers to KDDI and Softbank — likely the main reason it joined the iPhone frenzy this time around.

“Every time we received a question about iPhones, we said they are globally popular and that we want to add them to our lineup,” DoCoMo President Kaoru Kato said at a news conference Friday. “Today, it happened.”

Asked how the move will affect DoCoMo’s business plan for fiscal 2013, Kato said the company will monitor its iPhone sales before making any adjustments. He declined to comment on the details of DoCoMo’s contract with Apple, notably about what percentage of the carrier’s total handset sales will be accounted for by iPhones.

While most of the attention has focused on DoCoMo, the other two major domestic carriers also saw iPhone fans flock to their stores.

At an event in Tokyo, KDDI President Takashi Tanaka boasted about the phones’ compatibility with the high-speed long-term evolution (LTE) wireless communication system.

“We want (our iPhone users) to experience the difference” in speed compared to DoCoMo and Softbank, he said.

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