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USS Ronald Reagan Arrives in Japan

Crew members of U.S. navy nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan reunite their loved ones upon arrival at the U.S. Navy's Yokosuka base in Yokosuka, south of Tokyo Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015.

One of the most advanced U.S. aircraft carriers has docked at its new home in Japan - the latest sign of deepening military ties between Washington and Tokyo.

The nuclear-powered, Nimitz-class USS Ronald Reagan was welcomed by Japanese officials as it arrived in the port of Yokosuka on Thursday, one day ahead of schedule.

At a ceremony, U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said the substance and symbolism of the carrier's presence "cannot be overstated."

"The arrival of the USS Ronald Reagan and the welcome she receives from the people of Japan are visible symbols of our shared commitment to one another and to regional stability," he said.

The USS Ronald Reagan is one of only 10 Nimitz-class U.S. aircraft carriers in existence. It replaces the USS George Washington, which is headed back to the U.S. for maintenance work and upgrades.

In a statement, Japan's foreign ministry welcomed the arrival of the carrier, saying it will "contribute to the security of Japan and the maintenance of peace and security of the region."

Some local groups have expressed opposition to the carrier's presence. On Thursday, a group of protesters in a small boat sailed next to the massive warship with a sign that read, "You are not welcome here."

There has long been some local resistance to the U.S.-Japan defense alliance, which has placed nearly 50,000 American troops and some of Washington's most expensive military hardware in the country.

Regardless, Japan has tightened its defense relationship with the U.S. and also has been loosening the restrictions on its own defense forces as it attempts to deal with an increasingly power China.

China is engaged in a decades-long, worsening dispute with Japan over an area around a group of uninhabited islands in the strategically located and resource-rich East China Sea.