The U.S. aircraft carrier Midway came home today to a mixed reception of Japanese antinuclear protests and family reunions with crew members' wives and children.

The target of a growing protest against American nuclear weapons, the big carrier slipped into its home port as several hundred demonstrators around this Navy base expressed disapproval.

In the harbor, 28 small boats carrying signs of protest marked its arrival while antinuclear groups gathered in opposition at a harbor-side park. But at the dock, hundreds of dependents gathered for the traditional homecoming ceremony, Japanese politicians offered a welcome of free beer, and a Japanese Navy band played "Anchors Aweigh."

The Midway and this old Navy town have become the focal points of the antinuclear movements and leftwing groups aroused by recent reports that U.S. Navy vessels have routinely carried nuclear weapons into Japanese ports and waters.

Last night, several thousand protesters massed here to oppose the Midway's arrival and to call for an end to the mutual security treaty that unites the United States and Japan.

The protests caused no serious incidents and the crew of the carrier walked ashore into the arms of wives and children without paying much attention to the demonstrations.

"It's a free country and everyone's entitled to his opinion," said a helicopter maintenance crewman, Frank Sollars, who had flown ashore earlier.

In a gesture to offset the left-wing demonstrations, several members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party showed up to welcome the ship. Susumu Nikkaido, an influential party leader, presented the crew with 12,000 bottles of beer.

The demonstration last night was the largest anti-American, antinuclear protest since the controversy began three weeks ago with disclosures that American ships are known by the government to carry nuclear weapons into port. a

Organizers of the demonstration claimed that 9,000 joined the protest, held in a public park overlooking the harbor. The protest was organized by the Japan Socialist Party and leftwing labor unions and was joined by radical student groups. Although the speeches were strident, the demonstration, like most in Japan, was methodical and peaceful with more than 3,000 riot police officers standing guard.

The speeches here centered on the statements of former U.S. ambassador Edwin O. Reischauer that, with the Japanese government's approval, the U.S. ships brough nuclear weapons into ports in Japan's waters routinely for the past 21 years. Other American and Japanese former officials have largely confirmed his comments, but the government -- fearful of strong public reaction -- has denied any such agreement.

A socialist Party executive, Chaisato Tatebayashi, told the crowd that if the American statements were true, the "Japanese government has betrayed us for years."

Tatebayashi also warned that the presence of American nuclear weapons raised the risk of Japanese cities facing nuclear attacks, as Nagasaki and Hiroshima had in World War II. Both cities were demolished in history's only wartime atomic bombings.

A national concern about the Midway's return to port has been in part fostered by the news media, which several times this week reported on the ship's location as it steamed northward from the Philippines.

The Midway has been based here since 1973 and has made 63 previous returns from sea duty, usually to the welcome of 3,000 relatives of the crew who live in the city. The Japanese government last week hinted that it would like the ship to remain at sea a while longer, but American officials threw cold water on the idea. It has been on sea duty in the Pacific and Indian Oceans since Feb. 23.

The U.S. Navy said that any delay in its homecoming would have a bad effect on the morale of the dependents.

Mayor Kazuo Yokoyama pleaded with the national government to keep the Midway at sea.