TOKYO (AP) _ Conservative Japanese academics tried Friday to counter the accusations in the best-selling ``The Rape of Nanking,'' calling the book's account of Japanese atrocities in China in the 1930s misleading, poorly researched and exaggerated.

``The Rape of Nanking,'' by Iris Chang, is a vivid account of what historians have widely characterized as the murder and the rape of thousands of civilians by Japanese soldiers in the city now known as Nanjing.

A group of academics accused Chang on Friday of inflating the magnitude of the killing, basing her book on unreliable sources and using false captions on the photographs she uses as evidence. Chang defended her account Friday, and said the revisionists' denials ultimately only only hurt Japan.

Accounts of the December 1937-January 1938 massacre _ part of Japan's conquest of China _ are a favorite target of Japanese revisionists, who claim critics have stretched tales of Japanese brutality as means of putting political pressure on Japan and winning compensation.

``We don't deny civilians were killed,'' said Akira Nakamura, a history professor at Dokkyo University. ``But it is doubtful what happened at Nanjing can be called a `holocaust' or a `massacre.'''

The scholars told reporters it was impossible for Japanese troops to have killed 300,000 civilians in Nanjing _ as claimed by Chang and the Chinese _ because the civilian population in the city at the time was only 200,000, not the 600,000 Chang claims.

But in a phone interview Friday, Chang cited population studies of Nanjing by the Chinese historian Sun Zhaiwei, who found that the city had about 1 million people prior to the Japanese invasion. Several hundred thousand later fled, leaving between 600,000 and 700,000.

In their criticism of Chang's book, the Japanese historians also blamed some of the killings on the Chinese themselves. For example, they said Chinese soldiers disguised themselves as townsfolk, making it hard for Japanese forces to distinguish between civilians and the Chinese military.

In response, Chang said such actions by Chinese soldiers were hardly license for the Japanese soliders to kill people at will.

``To commit widespread massacres of civilians because there are some soldiers hiding among them is a clear violation of human rights laws and established laws of war,'' she said by phone from Lake Placid, N.Y.

Nobutaka Fujioka, a Tokyo University professor, took aim at Chang's use of photographs, saying she had misled readers by attaching false captions to shots presented as depictions of the massacre.

He said a photograph of a Japanese tank setting fire to a house in Nanjing could not have been authentic because the tank was produced in 1938, after the Nanking massacre occurred.

He also claimed that it was impossible to ascertain where and when a picture of the severed heads of Chinese men had been taken, making it useless as evidence of Japanese atrocities.

Chang denied manipulating any of the photographs or captions, adding that all the pictures in the book have been in the public domain for some time _ in books, newspapers, museums.

Reinterpretations of Japan's wartime role are gaining popularity among Japanese.

``Pride,'' a film that depicts convicted war criminal Gen. Hideki Tojo as a hero, is the top-earning domestic film in Japan so far this year, according to its producer.

The revisionists on Friday attempted to depict the occupation of Nanjing as largely benign, citing Japanese newspaper photographs showing Japanese soldiers playing with children and handing out medicine.

As for witness accounts of unbridled murder, looting and rape, Nakamura said: ``The Chinese people have a tendency to exaggerate.''