Background The term “frailty” might appear simple, but the methods used to assess it differ among studies. Consequently, there is inconsistency in the classification of frailty and predictive capacity depending on the frailty assessment method utilised. We aimed to examine the diagnostic accuracy of several screening tools for frailty defined by the phenotype model in older Japanese adults. Methods This cross-sectional study included 1,306 older Japanese adults aged ≥ 65 years who underwent physical check-up by cluster random sampling as part of the Kyoto-Kameoka Study in Japan. We evaluated the diagnostic accuracy of several screening instruments for frailty using the revised Japanese version of the Cardiovascular Health Study criteria as the reference standard. These criteria are based on the Fried phenotype model and include five elements: unintentional weight loss, weakness (grip strength), exhaustion, slowness (normal gait speed), and low physical activity. The Kihon Checklist (KCL), frailty screening index (FSI), and self-reported health were evaluated using mailed surveys. We calculated the non-parametric area under the receiver operating characteristic curve (AUC ROC) for several screening tools against the reference standard. Results The participants’ mean (standard deviation) age was 72.8 (5.5) years. The prevalence of frailty based on the Fried phenotype model was 12.2% in women and 10.3% in men. The AUC ROC was 0.861 (95% confidence interval: 0.832–0.889) for KCL, 0.860 (0.831–0.889) for FSI, and 0.668 (0.629–0.707) for self-reported health. The cut-off for identifying frail individuals was ≥ 7 points in the KCL and ≥ 2 points in the FSI. Conclusions Our results indicated that the two instruments (KCL and FSI) had sufficient diagnostic accuracy for frailty based on the phenotype model for older Japanese adults. This may be useful for the early detection of frailty in high-risk older adults.