Japan said on Saturday it would give $14 billion in aid to Africa over the next five years, as Tokyo scrambles to grab a share of resources and the potentially vast marketplace on offer. Around half of the money will be targeted at infrastructure development, with Tokyo seeking to match its desire to export transport systems and power grids with the gaping needs of the continent. Japan\'s overseas development aid \"will be about 1.4 trillion yen ($14 billion)\" Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at the start of a three-day conference in Tokyo involving the leaders of more then 40 African countries. Including this aid, \"Japan will offer up to 3.2 trillion yen in support to Africa\'s growth via public and private sector investment\", he said. Japanese firms are keen to develop their presence in Africa\'s growing market, and the country as a whole needs access to the resources the continent harbours. Despite relatively long-standing connections, Japan\'s importance to Africa has slipped behind that of China, whose more aggressive approach has given it five times the trading volume and eight times the direct investment. The five-yearly Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD), a get-together of political leaders from across Africa, is Japan\'s two decade old effort to boost links. Ahead of this year\'s forum, Japanese officials stressed that Tokyo wants to transform its relationship with Africa from that of donor-recipient to a business partnership. That theme was taken up by Abe. \"What Africa needs now is private-sector investment. \'PPP\', or \'public-private partnership\', leverages that investment,\" Abe told delegates. Tokyo\'s commitment to Africa differed from that of other nations, Abe said, in remarks that appeared to have been a reference to China. Beijing is criticised in some corners for what is sometimes seen as prosecuting little more than a resources grab and for not linking investment with demands for improved human rights or more transparent governance in recipient countries. \"Japan has aimed to create a \'true partnership\' with Africa over the entire course of our relations,\" Abe said. The focus on shifting the relationship was welcomed by delegates, with South African President Jacob Zuma saying the continent\'s economy had to develop. \"Africa must move from a path driven by commodities export to one led by industrialisation and diversification,\" he said. \"Three points are crucial (in the path to development): market integration, industrial development and infrastructure development.\" Ismael Omar Guelleh, the president of Djibouti, said the dearth of roads and ports across Africa was costing it two percent growth each year. The broad agreement on the need for better transport connections will be music to Abe\'s ears after his ambitious pledge last month to treble exports of infrastructure to 30 trillion yen a year by 2020 as part of his plan to reanimate Japan\'s lifeless economy. At the same time, Japan\'s firms see Africa as an opportunity for expansion at a time that their home market is contracting and stultifying because of a population that is rapidly ageing and is forecast to shrink. Those hopes were also given a boost in the form of plans to expose Africans to Japanese companies through education and training. Over the next five years, Abe said, Japan will invite 1,000 students to study in universities and gain experience as interns at Japanese companies, and Tokyo will work to find jobs for 30,000 people in Africa. \"Japan will also construct hubs for human resource development at 10 locations in the field in Africa, including in Ethiopia and Senegal. We will send experts in vocational training to these hubs,\" Abe said.