The four earliest karate styles developed in Japan are Shotokan, Wado-ryu, Shito-ryu, and Goju-ryu.1 The first three styles find their origins in the Shuri region of Okinawa whilst Goju-ryu finds its origins in the Naha province.
Shuri Karate is vastly different from Naha Karate, so that "they have very little in common, except for their uniform ...". There is almost no overlap in kata between Shuri Karate and Naha Karate. It should be mentioned however, that Shito-ryu could be regarded as a blend of Shuri and Naha Karate as its kata incorporate both Shuri and Naha kata. 2
When it comes to individual styles, Shotokan involves long, deep stances and powerful techniques. Shito-ryu, on the other hand, uses more upright stances and stresses speed rather than power in its techniques. Wado-ryu too employs shorter, more natural stances and the style is characterised by the emphasis on body shifting to avoid attacks. Kyokushin, a hard style, involves breaking and full contact, knockdown sparring as part of its training. 3 Goju-ryu, which is a form of Naha Karate, places emphasis on Sanchin kata and its rooted Sanchin stance, and it features grappling and close-range techniques. 4
The table contains a comparison of karate styles. Some of the distinguishing features are listed, such as lineage, general form of stances, and number of kata. However, the differences attributed to "style" are often a reflection of the disposition and preference of the teaching instructor (i.e. there are softer and harder schools of each style, some schools focus little on kata while others emphasise it, some will add or remove certain kata, etc.).