Java isn't very "symboly" in practice. Any idea why they made such an unusual choice? I'm not against it (I prefer symbols to long words generally, even if they have a slightly longer learning curve), but it seems unlike the rest of the Java spec.
Well, the alternative is adding a new keyword, and it's difficult to do that without risking breaking any existing code that uses whatever identifier they choose. Breaking old code is even less "Java" than introducing new symbols.
edit: Actually, now that I think about it, this wouldn't be the first time they introduced a new keyword with a language update. So much for that argument: